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Buddhist Votive Stele

550–75 C.E.

Gray limestone

208.3 x 66 x 20.3 cm, 544.32 kg (82 x 26 x 8 in., 1200 lb.), base: 49.53 x 45.72 x 91.44 cm, 136.08 kg (19 1/2 x 18 x 36 in., 300 lb.)
S. Wells Williams Collection, Bequest of F. Wells Williams, B.A. 1879
1929.45
Buddhists in China adopted the traditional Chinese practice of using rectangular stone slabs (bei) for commemorative purposes. Such stones were erected by donors at sites important to the Buddhist church, particularly temples. This stele includes a narrative scene in its main zone. The story is of the Buddha in a previous incarnation, as a king. In order to test the king’s piety, an ascetic demanded his head. The king acquiesced but, afraid that he would show fear, he tied his hair to a tree to steady himself; this act is depicted on the stele. In most versions of the story, the life of the king is spared, his selflessness proven. Above the narrative scene is the Buddha of the Future, Maitreya, seated with legs hanging downward; below is the historical Buddha Sakyamuni, who preaches while seated with legs crossed. The other side of the stele shows a debate between Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, and Vimalakirti, a layman. That a layman could debate a bodhisattva appealed to educated Chinese, and this story was thus frequently represented as a means of propagating the faith.
Culture: 
Chinese
Period: 
Northern Qi dynasty (550–577 C.E.)
Classification: 
Sculpture
Status: 
On view
Bibliography: 

George J. Lee, Selected Far Eastern Art in the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1970), 37–38, no. 58, ill.

Alan Shestack, ed., Yale University Art Gallery Selections (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1983), 94–95, ill.

Handbook of the Collections, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1992), 287, ill.

Susan B. Matheson, Art for Yale: A History of the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2001), 76–77, fig. 63.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.

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