The Wow Factor in Wei Dynasty Buddhist Art

  • June 05, 2017 11:19

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Wei Dynasty Bodhisattva. Stone. Lot 148. Gianguan Auctions, June 10 sale.

Early Buddhist art has always attracted attention the attention of collectors, and now, partly because of its rarity,  more than ever before.  

Buddhism, brought to China nearly 2,000 years ago, spread region by region to become the country's most accepted religious philosophy. Why? Well, you have the Wei to thank for that.

The Wei Dynasty [386-535] which was founded by the nomadic Tuoba tribesmen who (although their nationalistic origins are unknown, spoke a form of Turkish) were great patrons of Buddhism. The philisophy brought forth univeralist ethics, a chraracteristic that gave the Tuoba leverage and gave their leadership a legitimate base in the multiethnic Chinese society.

The Wei fostered Buddhism as a state religion. The Wei's greatest contribution to their times and people was Buddhist art, as represented by the site specific sculptures of the cliff grottoes at Yungang, near Datong. (Now a UNESCO World Heritage site.)

The same meticulous work that was applied to the cave sculptures carried over into the smaller examples of religious art of the period. An outstanding piece of which can be seen in Gianguan Auctons offerings of June 10, 2017.  

The earliest work is a Northern Wei (386-535AD) stone Bodhisattva, in an unusual seated asana with crossed ankles and hands in mudras “fear not” and “charity.” Backed by a mandorla, positioned atop a base flanked by lions, the 11” tall, mottled figure with some remaining pigment captures the sculptural style of the Wei period. It is Lot 148, valued at  $40,000 or above. 

A Qi Dynasty Buddha statue, marble. Note the stylistic differences. Lot 145.Gianguan Auctions, June 10 sale.

The differences in stye  can be seen when looking at a marble statue created two hundred years later, during the Northern Qi (550-557 AD) period. The slender standing Buddha is in a frontal stance, with a columnar posture marked by a curved  profile, and a long robe with parallel U-shaped folds, the image is typical of the period. The figure  stands  33” tall and weighs nearly 80 pounds. It is Lot 145, valued at more  than $60,000.

For more on the Wei Dynasty Buddhist statues in Gianguan Auctions sale on June 10, please visit  

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Northern Wei (386-535AD) stone Bodhisattva, in an unusual seated asana with crossed ankles and hands in mudras “fear not” and “charity.” 11” tall.  Some remaining pigment.  captures.  Gianguan Auctions, Lot 148, June 10, 2017.

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