Stele with Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future

Historical period(s)
Northern Qi dynasty, 565; rededicated 1516
Marble with traces of pigment
H x W x D: 95.1 x 60.6 x 35.4 cm (37 7/16 x 23 7/8 x 13 15/16 in)
China, Hebei province, Quyang
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Freer Gallery 17: Promise of Paradise
Sculpture, Stone


anjali mudra, apsara, bodhisattva, Buddhism, China, dragon, lion, Maitreya Buddha, Northern Qi dynasty (550 - 577), pagoda, Prabhutaratna Buddha

To 1913
Yamanaka & Company, New York to 1913 [1]

From 1913 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Yamanaka & Company, New York in 1913 [2]

From 1920
The Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] Undated folder sheet note. See S.I. 404, Original Miscellaneous List, pg. 127.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
Yamanaka and Co. (C.L. Freer source) 1917-1965


An inscription on the back of this stela, or large stone tablet, states that it was made for patrons from Quyang, in Hebei Province, and provides the date of 565. The white marble is typical of Buddhist images from the mid-sixth century in this area, but the unusual iconography has raised questions by some twentieth-century scholars as to the authenticity of the sculpture. A general consensus, however, holds that the work is genuine. A distinctive iconographic feature of Quyang works is paired images. In this case the main motif consists of pensive, seated bodhisattvas (enlightened beings).

These dual figures probably represent Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future, as a bodhisattva in a heavenly realm awaiting rebirth on earth. An openwork backdrop is formed by two trees supporting a pagoda (the Chinese version of the Indian stupa, or burial mound), which is occupied by two Buddha figures. Flanking dragons spew long garlands that are held aloft by flying celestials. Beneath the pagoda, a niche contains images of the Buddhas of the Past and the Present. The pagoda and niche are each upheld by muscular figures adopted from Indian images of yaksas (male nature deities).

The base is carved with an incense burner supported by a brawny figure framed by lions, meditative individuals, and guardians. On the back of the base, in addition to the inscription of 565, a Ming dynasty rededication of the image dated to 1516 appears beginning with the eleventh line from the right.

Published References
  • Jung Hee Lee. The Contemplating Bodhisattva Images of Asia, with Special Emphasis on China and Korea. Ann Arbor. pl. 53.
  • Chugoku bijutsu [Chinese Art in Western Collections]. 5 vols., Tokyo, 1972-1973. vol. 3: pl. 39.
  • Osvald Siren. Chinese Sculpture from the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century: Over 900 Specimens in Stone, Bronze, Lacquer and Wood, Principally from Northern China. 4 vols., London. vol. 3: pl. 245.
  • Harald Ingholt, Islay Lyons. Gandharan Art in Pakistan. New York. pl. 24 (3).
  • Jan Stuart, Chang Qing. Chinese Buddhist Sculpture in a New Light at the Freer Gallery of Art. vol. 32, no. 4 Hong Kong, April 2002. p. 33, fig. 7.
  • J. LeRoy Davidson. The Lotus Sutra in Chinese Art: A Study in Buddhist Art to the Year 1000. Yale Historical Publications, History of Art; 8 New Haven. p. 59, pl. 20.
  • Katherine R. Tsiang. Resolve to Become a Buddha (Chengfo): Changing Aspirations and Imagery in Sixth-Century Chinese Buddhism. vol. 13/14, pt.2. pp. 126-133, fig. 4.
  • Saburo Matsubara. Chinese Buddhist Sculpture [Chugoku Bukkyo chokokushi kenkyu]: A Study Based on Bronze and Stone Statues other than Works from Cave Temples. Tokyo, 1961-1971. p. 134, fig. 115.
  • unknown title. cat. 50, p. 178.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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