A carved 'bai furong' recumbent figure of Maitreya
Lot 208
A carved 'bai furong' recumbent figure of Maitreya, by Zhou Bin Early Qing dynasty, signed Shangjun
Sold for HK$ 3,120,000 (US$ 402,353) inc. premium
Auction Details
A carved 'bai furong' recumbent figure of Maitreya A carved 'bai furong' recumbent figure of Maitreya, by Zhou Bin Early Qing dynasty, signed Shangjun
Lot Details
A carved 'bai furong' recumbent figure of Maitreya, by Zhou Bin
Early Qing dynasty, signed Shangjun
The 'furong' stone of an attractive translucent beige colour, exquisitely carved in the form of Budai depicted in a reclining position, his features naturalistically rendered with extraordinary detail, his close-cropped, stubbly hair delicately stippled, his broad smiling face finely cut and incised, his chin resting on his bare right forearm which is folded over his left arm, the hems on his plain, loose coat incised and gilded, his left, rope-sandalled foot protruding from the hem of his robe, the bundle on which he is leaning tied in a loose knot, the brocade cloth carved with a diaper and chi dragons in shaped reserves, and gilded, incised between the shoulders on the reverse in 'bafenshu' with the two- character signature 'shangjun, all supported on a thin cushion of deep maroon-purple Shoushan stone, minutely engraved with lotus scrolls on a wave diaper ground, the edge with a formal gilded lotus scroll and gilded, the underside decorated with a phoenix amidst cloud scrolls and a border of chi dragons.
9.8cm long.


  • 清初 壽山白芙蓉石雕彌勒佛臥像 陰刻「尚均」八分書款

    The Oriental Art Gallery Ltd., London, 1993

    The Oriental Art Gallery Ltd., Oriental Works of Art, London, 1993, no. 138

    As discussed by Gerald Tsang and Hugh Moss, ibid, pg. 84-86, Shangjun is the 'zi' name for Zhou Bin, a native of Zhangzhou in Fujian, historically renowned as the most accomplished of all the known soapstone carvers. Little is known of his exact dates, but it is clear that his craftsmanship was appreciated by the scholar class, and that he expressed himself within their aesthetic. Throughout the Qing period, he was admired, as can be seen from an inscription on a Zhou Bin seal by the late Qing painter Wu Changshuo (1844-1927), 'This stone was carved by Zhou Shangjun, we should especially treasure it'.

    In his definitive work on soapstone, Shoushanshi zhi (Records of Shoushan Stone), Fujian, 1982, Fang Zonggui expounds that Zhou Bin's work encapsulated the technique of 'xieyi', the thin, low-relief, painterly style of carving. 'Xieyi' literally translates as 'idea painting', but in literati eyes, through its association with a free, expressionist style, it transcended the medium of sculpture and became associated with the higher art of painting, thereby assuming the potential for profundity. Rather than focusing on the sheer technical skill that is evident in the current sculpture, Fang refers to Zhou Bin's work as being in a simple and rustic style, a compliment reserved for the highest levels of literati painting and calligraphy. Fundamentally, in the eyes of the literati class, the important impression from a masterpiece of Zhou Bin, such as the current sculpture, is not the quality of the carving, but of the meaning conveyed through the profundity of his expression.

    Only a small number of figural sculptures by Zhou Bin are recorded in museum and private collections, of which the current lot is arguably one of the finest. The furong stone is an exquisite colour; the carving is strong and supple, with extraordinary sensitive and naturalistic details; the incised designs on the textiles are superb in their execution.



    All the known figural carvings by Zhou Bin are clearly individual works of art, sharing certain qualities of expression, incised designs on the robe and style of carving, but fundamentally different from each other. These include:


    - a tianhuang figure of Maitreya in the Palace Museum, Beijing (13.5cm long), inscribed 'shangjun', illustrated by Yang Boda, Zhongguo Meishu Quanji. Diaosu Bian 6 Yuan Ming Qing Diaosu, 1988, pg. 145, pl. 158 (fig.1);

    - a luohan (10.1cm high.), carved from creamy-beige stone, in the National Museum of History, Beijing, signed Zhou Bin, illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan: Jin yin yu shi juan, Hong Kong, 1994, pg. 83, pl.242 (fig.2);

    - a luohan (11.1cm) carved from mottled grey stone, depicted seated gazing at his open hand, illustrated by Tsang and Moss, ibid, pg. 86, pl. 44, inscribed 'Gumin Zhoubin Shangjun shi zhi' ('Made by Zhou Bin, Shangjun of Gumin' (fig.3);

    - the lion-subduing luohan, carved from tianhuang, illustrated in Exquisite Chinese Artifacts, Collection of Ching Wan Society, National Museum of History, Taipei, 1995, pl.191 (fig. 4);

    - Avalokitesvara and acolyte (10.5cm), illustrated by Sydney Moss Ltd., The Literati Mode. Chinese Scholar Paintings, Calligraphy and Desk Objects, London, 1986, pl. 84 (fig.5);

    -a luohan (9cm high), sold at Sotheby's New York, The Arts of Buddha, 22 September 2004, lot 50, inscribed 'shangjun', illustrated on www.e-yaji.com, pl. 1.4.13;

    -a meditating monk, inscribed 'shangjun', illustrated on www.e-yaji.com, pl. 1.4.14.;

    - a luohan (10.4cm high) with miniature lion, formerly in the collection of R. Foster Reynolds, Providence, R.I., sold at Sotheby's New York, 25 February 1983, lot 194, inscribed Zhou Bin;

    - other figures by Zhou Bin, sold at Sotheby's London, 12 November 1974, lot 89; Sotheby's New York, 31 March 2005, lot 202, and 22 September 2005, lot 60.
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