Buddhist Art

As a result of new research, several stunning sculptures were displayed for the first time, including some dated after the Tang dynasty (618–907) and represent the fascinating, but often neglected period of later Chinese Buddhist art.

The Freer’s collection of Chinese Buddhist sculpture—arguably one of the best in the Western world—was for the most part acquired during the first half of the 20th century when China’s depressed economy fed the antiquities trade. Collectors were able to buy stellar Chinese artifacts that were hitherto little known in the West. But many of these sculptures were removed from Buddhist religious sites without proper documentation as to their provenance within China. Furthermore some sculptures were altered before sale by re-cutting of details or by cleaning, which removed their brightly painted or gilded surface decoration. Worst of all, the marketability of Chinese Buddhist sculptures led to the development of a lively trade in forgeries, a few of which were of such high quality that they entered major collections including those at the Freer.

Objects on view included:

  • two stelae, both originally dated to the Northern Qi dynasty (550–577), one of which is now considered to be genuine and the other fake
  • two unusual four-sided miniature marble stelae from the Six Dynasties Period (220–589)
  • a gilt image of a standing Buddha, originally thought to be from the Six Dynasties Period but now considered to be fake
  • an ivory statue of the figure of Guanyin in the guise of Buddha holding a sacred jewel with a spurious inscription of 1025, now re-dated to the Ming to Qing dynasty (17th–18th century).