Buddhist stele

Historical period(s)
Northern Wei dynasty, dated 511
H x W x D: 30.4 x 18.6 x 10.6 cm (11 15/16 x 7 5/16 x 4 3/16 in)
China, Probably Henan province
Credit Line
Gift of Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Sculpture, Stone


abhaya mudra, bodhisattva, Buddha, Buddhism, China, dragon, lettering, lion, Northern Wei dynasty (386 - 534), varada mudra

From at least 1916 to 1968
Eugene Meyer (1875-1959) and Agnes E. Meyer (1887-1970), New York, NY, Washington, DC and Mt. Kisco, NY, from at least 1916 [1]

From 1968
Freer Gallery of Art, given by Agnes E. Meyer, 1968 [2]


[1] Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer lent the stele to the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition in 1916, see S. C Bosch Reitz, Catalogue of An Exhibition of Early Chinese Pottery and Sculpture, exh. cat. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1916), cat. 323 (ill.).

[2] The object is included in Agnes E. Meyer’s Deed of Gift, listed as no. 37 in the document’s Annex, dated July 24, 1967, copy in object file.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer (1875-1959) and (1887-1970)


The small votive stela has lost its upper section, which probably came to a flame-shaped point. The main figure on the front is a Buddha, and on the rear appears a seated bodhisattva (enlightened being) with crossed ankles. The style of the sculpture resembles early-sixth-century stelae from northern Henan Province.

The work was in the United States before 1916, and doubts have arisen about its authenticity. On the front of the stela, the fussy drapery that cascades over the base is unusual. On the back, the Buddha niches cut off at the stone's edge are inexplicable-there is no reason for carving incomplete arches and figures.

The inscription dated 511 on the stela's front is also atypical. The two characters in the second line from the right appear to have been squeezed in as an afterthought. Anomalies such as these are serious but cannot prove the sculpture to be fake. Some unusual sculptures have been discovered in China, suggesting that despite its peculiarities, this stela could be genuine.

Published References
  • Sigisbert Chrétien Bosch Reitz. Catalogue of an Exhibition of Early Chinese Pottery and Sculpture. Exh. cat. New York. fig. 323.
  • Thomas Lawton. Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Memorial Exhibition. Exh. cat. Washington, 1971. cat. 15, pp. 30-31.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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