A very rare pair of monumental fahua Buddhist lions on stands Late Ming Dynasty, 16th/17th century (4)
Lot 70* TP
A very rare pair of monumental fahua Buddhist lions on stands
Late Ming Dynasty, 16th/17th century
Sold for £ 512,750 (US$ 652,049) inc. premium

Fine Chinese Art

17 May 2018, 10:30 BST

London, New Bond Street

Lot Details
A very rare pair of monumental fahua Buddhist lions on stands Late Ming Dynasty, 16th/17th century (4) A very rare pair of monumental fahua Buddhist lions on stands Late Ming Dynasty, 16th/17th century (4) A very rare pair of monumental fahua Buddhist lions on stands Late Ming Dynasty, 16th/17th century (4) A very rare pair of monumental fahua Buddhist lions on stands Late Ming Dynasty, 16th/17th century (4) A very rare pair of monumental fahua Buddhist lions on stands Late Ming Dynasty, 16th/17th century (4)
A very rare pair of monumental fahua Buddhist lions on stands
Late Ming Dynasty, 16th/17th century
The imposing pair, each superbly modelled as male and female beasts seated on their haunches with wide bulging eyes and wide gaping mouth, wearing a tassel-hung collar around the neck, the mane, thighs and flames issuing from the powerful body glazed amber, the female with the right forepaw over a playful cub, the male with the left forepaw over a brocade ball, both creatures resting on a square and waisted lotus base elaborately carved with bands of peony scrolls, petal lappets and ruyi, the central constricted section decorated with a rabbit, deer, recumbent cow and qilin, the lower section of one base a wood replacement and painted to match. 203.3cm (80in) high overall. (4).


  • 明末十六/十七世紀 琺華釉狻猊坐像配蓮紋基座 一對

    Provenance: Collection of the grandson of the Daoguang Emperor, by repute C.T.Loo & Co. (labels)
    Cornelius Ruxton Love Jr. (1904 - 1971) and Audrey B. Love (1903 - 2003), New York
    Christie's New York, The C. Ruxton and Audrey B. Love Collection, 20 October 2004, lot 317
    A distinguished Western private collection

    巴黎古董商C.T.Loo & Co.(標貼)
    紐約藏家Cornelius Ruxton Love Jr.先生 (1904 - 1971)及Audrey B. Love女士(1903 - 2003)收藏
    2004年10月20日於紐約佳士得「C. Ruxton先生及Audrey B. Love女士收藏」專場拍賣,拍品317號

    Audrey B. Love, a philanthropist and patron of the arts, was the daughter of Edith Guggenheim and Admiral Louis Josephthal. C. Ruxton Love Jr. was a partner with the Stock Exchange firm of Josephtal & Co. Both were well known art collectors and their collection of Napoleonic art was exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1978 and their Georgian silver collection was exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2002. Audrey Love was a founding member of the Lowe Art Museum of the University of Miami.

    This outstanding pair of Buddhist lions belongs to a specially commissioned statuary group that served as guardians, and was most likely specially commissioned for an important temple. Few related sculptures of such massive proportions have survived, making this pair exceptionally rare. Such sculptures would have probably been placed outdoors, either entirely or within a protective shelter; furthermore, the massive size and complexity of the stoneware sectional structure, are all elements which would have made such sculptures more susceptible to damage, resulting in few surviving sculptures.

    Compare, however, a very similar pair of monumental fahua Buddhist lions, Ming dynasty, in the Newark Museum, New Jersey, acc.no. 39.430.1-2. This pair of lions is remarkably similar to the present lot, and was most likely made in the same workshop. Furthermore, the close similarity suggests that both pairs may have originated in the same temple or complex. The Newark Museum lions were gifted to the museum in 1939 by Herman A.E. Jaehne and Paul C. Jaehne. The present lions bear C.T.Loo labels, who was active in the US from 1915 to 1950. It is therefore likely that both pairs of lions reached the US prior to 1939, and were both possibly sold by C.T.Loo. in New York. Models of lions were introduced to China from Central Asia as symbols of religious might, but have evolved to be seen as noble and divine creatures and protectors of the Truth. Typically modelled in pairs of a male and female lion, they also symbolise the yin and yang forces, as well as the auspicious wishes for unity and continuity.

    Compare also another pair of large lions, 16th century, glazed in a sancai palette, illustrated by Y.L d'Argencé, ed., Chinese, Korean and Japanese Sculpture in the Avery Brundage Collection, Japan, 1974, pp.320-321, no.171. See also a related but smaller pair of Buddhist lions on pedestals, with a temple dedicatory inscription dated to 1465 (61cm high), which was sold at Christie's London 31 March 1969, illustrated by A.du Boulay, Christie's Pictorial History of Chinese Ceramics, Oxford, 1984, p.180, no.2.

    A rare pair of monumental polychrome-glazed Buddhist lions on stands Late Ming Dynasty, 16th/17th century

    Dr Clarence Eng

    These splendid guardian lions should be visualised standing protectively before a classical temple-hall for which they were commissioned. Glazed in a striking azure blue flecked with turquoise and highlighted in yellow, they stand impressively tall, raised on waisted pedestals to an overall height of over 200 cm (80in), well over head-height. They are boldly modelled with authoritative but lively facial demeanour which masks their robust form.

    Guardian figures are thought to have arrived in China from Central Asia in the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) to be placed outside the palace halls of the wealthy. Later, with the establishment of religious sites, some of which had originated as the gifted residences of wealthy patrons, guardian figures and guardian animals continued to ward off evil at the entrances of temples and halls bequeathed or endowed anew by wealthy patrons. Most guardian figures placed in the open were lions, either carved in stone or cast in bronze or iron, and they became a fashionable sign of prestigious rank outside fine residences or generously-endowed temples. However, ceramic guardian lions are relatively few, possibly because their inherent fragility reduced the numbers which survived, and being outdoors they would be more vulnerable in turbulent times (see Fig.1 in the printed catalogue for other typical guardian figures).

    This pair has survived remarkably well and each assembly is presented imposingly in three parts with the lion resting on a matching two-piece pedestal 90 cm (36 in) high. They announce in many ways their Buddhist association.

    The male lion, traditionally positioned on the right as one faces the hall, sits open-mouthed and staring ahead with his left front paw, as is customary, resting playfully on an embroidered brocade ball. The female sits to the left with her mouth nearly shut and, as is also customary, has her right paw clasped protectively around her cub. The ball and cub are strongly embedded in traditional styling, and explanations for their meaning are offered in the folklore of different East Asian countries. However, their origin and true significance are now obscure.

    Similarly, the 'one mouth shut and one open' convention is seen often in guardian figure pairs, and explanations are offered throughout Asia for its significance. Many agree that 'mouth open' signifies vocalisation of the first character, 'a', of the Sanskrit alphabet, and 'mouth shut' the last, 'um', and that together they represent the sound 'om' which expresses the 'Absolute or Ultimate Reality' in the Sanskrit mantra. Another interpretation is that the two sounds represent the 'first and last breath' or the beginning and end of life whilst, in some Japanese traditions, a third suggests in a similar vein that the male lion inhales whilst the lioness exhales, symbolising 'life and death'.

    More compelling are the astonishing eyes of the lioness. Whilst her right eye stares fixedly ahead, her left eye is swivelled rearwards as if re-directing her gaze towards, or to some point behind, her mate. This strabismus is clearly intended but its meaning is unclear. Moreover, the skilful modelling of the animal's head and facial contours renders this intriguing and unusual feature almost unnoticeable at first sight to the casual frontal observer.

    Remarkable also is the tightly coiled 'coiffure' of the lions' manes which refers strongly to the archaic influence of Greco-Buddhist art from Central Asia in the early days of Buddhism in China in the 5th century.

    Azure blue dominates the glaze colour-scheme, covering much of the body area of the lions and a significant proportion of their pedestals. The principal contrast is yellow which is used for the lions' lips, for the palate roof of the open-mouthed male lion, and to outline the musculature of their thighs and shoulders. Yellow also colours manes, their below-chin hair, eyebrows and the inner surface of ears. In places, the yellow colouring is delicately demarcated from the blue glaze alongside by a fine shadow underline in turquoise green, which in places has run on firing and colourfully relieved some otherwise solid blue areas with subtle vertical trails of turquoise. Other colour-detailing includes a bluish-white for the teeth and the sclera of the eyes, whilst dark aubergine is used for fur in shadow, behind the cheek lobes and on the underside of limbs. Aubergine is used also for the body fur of the lionesse's cub and for her mate's brocaded ball which is neatly tied with green and blue ribbons. The lions' eye-pupils are 'dotted' with a very dark, almost black aubergine and a lighter hue is used for the animals' prominent collars which are finely decorated with rosette-shaped studs and bells in a contrasting yellow.

    The pedestal supporting the lioness has an old repair which has discoloured, but that of the male lion displays clearly the original colour scheme, which is predominantly blue in background with applied decoration in yellow. The upper face of each pedestal is shaped as a recessed tray that receives the flat register-plate on which the lion is mounted. This measures 60cm x 70cm (24in x 28in) and its low vertical sides are decorated with a band of yellow peonies relieved with green detailing against a blue ground of foliage, a decorative scheme which is mirrored on the lowest band at the base of the pedestal.

    The recessed waists of the pedestals bear on each face a square panel fringed with yellow clouds depicting an animal also in yellow, with aubergine detailing in places, against a background of blue clouds and water. Amongst the animals depicted are a hare, a deer, a horse and a mythical qilin in full flight among clouds. Many of these are symbols from Buddhist iconography and similar representations appear also on the banded decoration at the base of the three surviving dragon-screen walls from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), which are all in Shanxi Province in North China, and date from 1392 to 1607; see C.Eng, Colours and Contrast: Ceramic Traditions in Chinese Architecture, Leiden and Boston, 2015, pp.211-221.

    The stepped layers above and below the waisted section are covered successively one with smaller and the other larger stylised lotus petals in yellow, edge-highlighted in green. The petals are applied tightly together so that the blue ground beneath is barely visible. These stylised petals were already prominent as an architectural motif in the early Ming and the smaller versions on the adjacent panels appear more developed stylistically and are probably later in the period.

    Whilst yellow and green glazes belong to the sancai 三彩 'three-colour' palette of lead glazes widely used in China from the 5th century onwards, the turquoise, deep blue and aubergine colours belong to the so-called fahua 法华group of glazes (the precise etymology of fahua 法华remains unclear). These are based on complex metal oxide compounds, and were introduced to China from the Middle East during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). Fahua colours were later famously deployed together with sancai colours in the polychrome dragon-screen walls of the Ming.

    The size, modelling and glaze quality of these lions invites attention. Large glazed ceramic works of this kind belong to a group of objects for which, from the Yuan dynasty onwards, the expertise was developed in craft family workshops in Shanxi Province in North China. These workshops specialised in glazed architectural components, generically referred to in China as liuli 琉璃 which can be translated as 'glaze-work' (for the historical development of Chinese architectural ceramics, see C.Eng, Colours and Contrast: Ceramic Traditions in Chinese Architecture, Leiden and Boston, 2015). Their products ranged from simple roof tiles to large decorative finials composed from separately fired parts and weighing several tons for the roofs of imperial palaces. They also made large figurative statues such as life-sized luohans, 'worthy disciples of Buddha', which were fired in one piece as indeed were these guardian lions, for which similar production methods, discussed below, would almost certainly have been employed (Luohans have recently been the subject of intensive study and the definitive work is by Eileen Hsiang-Ling Hsu, Monks in Glaze: Patronage, Kiln Origin and Iconography of the Yixian Luohans, Leiden and Boston, 2017; see Fig.2 in the printed catalogue for one of the surviving luohan examples discussed below).

    Each lion appears to be moulded in two hollow segments, a head and a body which were subsequently luted (joined with ceramic paste) before firing. In these examples the joint may be concealed beneath their broad aubergine-coloured collars.

    Shaping, firing and then glazing shapes as complicated as these would have been a skilful operation. The makers would have wanted not to make these figures as solid objects, because of the risk of explosive failure during firing. Instead, parts were shaped separately as hollow or thin mouldings, assembled by luting using 'slip' (a viscous liquid clay), then air-dried to 'leather-hardness' before initial firing. Parts for the pedestals, being simpler geometric shapes, could be modelled in press-moulds, but parts for the bodies and heads required great skill.

    The greatest challenge would have been to hand-mould these parts as thinly as possible to reduce their thermal mass and water content but without the clay slumping during drying or firing. A supporting armature of some kind would have received an initial coarse modelling, followed by the application of a smoother clay to give a 'sculptural' finish to its displayed surface. Completely vegetal material, such as wood or bamboo, would have been unsuitable as an armature-former because it would have carbonised and disintegrated during the first firing at 1000-1100°C. However, X-ray and conservation studies have shown the use in similarly large works of thin metal-rod armatures of wrought iron wound with vegetal fibres which cushioned clay shrinkage during air-drying and, for time enough, the subsequent thermal expansion of the metal rods during firing (see N.Wood, C.Doherty, M.Menshikova, C.Eng and R.Smithies, 'A Luohan from Yixian in the Hermitage Museum: Some Parallels in Material Usage with the Longquanwu and Liuliqu Kilns near Beijing', Bulletin of Chinese Ceramic Art and Archaeology No.6, Beijing, December 2015, pp.34-35).

    In these lions particular skill would have been employed in modelling re-entrant areas such as mouths, or the enclosed areas of limbs and lower abdomen, all with adequate support and internal ventilation during air-drying and for escape of steam in firing. In both lions a vent-hole was left behind the mouth at the throat, in the lioness just visible through her clenched teeth, whilst in the body portions can be seen now-plugged vent-holes at the navel and in the small of the back. These were presumably sealed before glazing and subsequent second firing. There may also have been a third vent-hole in the base of the body. The second firing, carried out at a lower temperature of 900-1000°C, would have taken place on a now very dry ceramic body with reduced risk of failure.

    Whilst the modelling of the parts would often have been executed from familiar traditional models which evolved only slowly, especially in the case of guardian lions, the glaze-application would have required innovation for every new commission. The shading, interlining, outlining and application of colour fields on pieces such as these would very likely have changed from one commission to the next because such works were often unique demonstrations of the craftsmen's art.

    Although the production techniques for these figures was developed in family craft workshops in Shanxi, craftsmen from the province and their linear descendants, together with their jealously guarded techniques, were successively drafted to set up kilns for the construction of the new capital city, first Dadu for the Yuan, and at the subsequently re-named Beijing for the Ming and Qing capitals.

    Recent research has established that at least two of the luohan figures, out of ten surviving works now all in museums worldwide, were made from clay whose distinctive compositional markers indicate that it came from a scarce geological deposit in China measuring a compact 8km by 50km. just west of Beijing. In part of this area in the Western Hills, kilns making architectural ceramics still operate under the supervision of contemporary descendants of the original Shanxi craft families (see N.Wood, et al, 'A Luohan from Yixian in the Hermitage Museum', Beijing, 2015, pp.31-33).

    The unusual predominant colour of the lions may connect in another way with both Buddhism and Shanxi Province. The mountainous Wutaishan region, in the north-east of Shanxi lies roughly 300km west of Beijing, and has some seventy important surviving ancient Buddhist temple-sites. Most were founded in the Ming but some earlier and two survive from the Tang dynasty (618-907). Beginning in the 5th century, repeated accounts of local apparitions and mystical phenomena led Wutaishan to become a major destination for Lamaist (Tibetan Buddhist) pilgrims from Mongolia, China and the Himalayan Plateau including Tibet and Northern India. In time, the region became identified with the earthly home of Mañjuśrī (in Chinese Wenshu 文殊), the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, in honour of whom many temples and temple halls were richly endowed (a Bodhisattva is a person who has delayed making the final step to nirvana and Buddhahood in order further to conduct good worldly deeds). Patrons included from earliest times members of the (Buddhist) imperial families whose rulers were considered to be imbued with the qualities of Wenshu, their patron deity.

    Wenshu is sometimes associated emblematically with a blue lotus and is often represented riding a blue lion, the combined representation said to signify iconographically the achievement of mental composure through wisdom. Such a figure of Wenshu astride a blue lion stands in the Shuxiangsi 殊像寺 (The Temple of the Likeness of Wenshu) in Wutaishan. It is an imposing 10 meters in height overall, though made not of ceramic but of plaster and other materials. It is possible that the colour of the guardian lions under discussion might be a metaphoric reference to Wenshu and possibly therefore to the temple for which they were commissioned.

    In conclusion, these lions were probably made by leading craftsmen from Shanxi Province working either in Shanxi or near to Beijing, and they were very possibly commissioned for an important and generously endowed temple dedicated to the Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī (Wenshu). The glazes used were all fully developed by the mid to later Ming and the lotus petal motifs and animal figures on the pedestals are consistent with that period. These lions are an exceptional example of the liuli master's art exhibiting timeless quality and their own exotic ancestry.
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