Buddhist stele

Historical period(s)
Period of Division, Dated 564 C. E.
H x W x D (overall): 125.8 x 64.1 x 11.9 cm (49 1/2 x 25 1/4 x 4 11/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Sculpture, Stone


abhaya mudra, Buddhism, Carl Whiting Bishop collection, China, cintamani, halo, Period of Division (220 - 589), scepter, throne, trident, varada mudra

To 1923
Hsu-Sen-yu, Bejing [1]

From 1923
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased by Carl Whiting Bishop from Hsu-Sen-yu, Peking on Sept. 11, 1923 [2]


[1] Curatorial Remark 1 in the object record. This stele along with five other pieces were purchased by Carl Whiting Bishop from Mr. Hsu Sen-yu, who was a staff of the Chinese Educational Department in Bejing, China in 1923.

[2] See note 1. Also see the Bishop Collection file, Collections Management Office.

Updated on June 6, 2021

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)



When the Freer Gallery of Art acquired this stela, or tablet-shaped sculpture, in 1923, it was broken into five pieces. After conservators repaired it in 1933, it was long exhibited as a masterpiece. Recently, some doubts have arisen about the stela's authenticity based on the lack of similar works in China. In addition, little natural wear appears on the stone, which is suspect. Damage is limited to the heads of some figures and might have been intentionally inflicted by modern creators to "antique" the stela. This sculpture is an example of a previously unassailable work now undergoing more study in order to assess its genuineness.

The central image is a seated Buddha with raised right hand in the gesture of reassurance and lowered left hand in the gesture of granting favor. It is peculiar that he is seated on a dais with an hourglass-shaped throne beneath the platform. Usually only one type of seat is depicted. Is this a copyist's mistake? In the upper register, another Buddha appears between matching canopied niches. On the right is the supremely wise Buddhist layman Weimo (Sanskrit, Vimalakirti), who holds a whisklike object. On the left is the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Wenshu (Sanskrit, Manjusri), holding a scepter. The arrangement of these two figures separated by a Buddha group was common during the sixth century.

The lowest register features a vase with an elaborate floral arrangement and two kneeling worshipers holding censers. To each side, guardian figures hold trident-like poles. On the rear of the stela is an inscription with more than 550 characters that indicates the stela was donated to a temple by a group that included monks and nuns.

Published References
  • J. LeRoy Davidson. The Origin and Early Use of the Ju-i. vol. 13, no. 4 Washington and Zurich. front, p. 241, pl. 1.
  • Mary Augusta Nourse. The Four Hundred Million: A Short Story of the Chinese., 1st ed. Indianapolis and New York. opp. p. 132.
  • 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. 34, fig. 8.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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