Lohan as an ascetic






 
Anonymous, Chinese
Lohan as an ascetic
China, Yuan dynasty
1260-1368
Sculpture
Wood sculpture
Wood with pigments and gold
h. 28.0 cm.
Museum purchase with funds given by David W. Steadman, Graduate School Class of 1974, and Mrs. Steadman, in honor of Robert P. Griffing, Jr., Graduate School Class of 1940
y1972-16


Description
An old man is represented as a gaunt ascetic seated in meditation with his chin resting on top of his hands placed one over the other above his raised right knee

An old man is represented as a gaunt ascetic seated in meditation with his chin resting on top of his hands placed one over the other above his raised right knee.  His left leg is bent horizontally underneath, drawn toward the body.  A long cloth is draped across his back and falls over the left shoulder, and he wears pants fastened with a cord around his waist.  His lowered head, furrowed forehead, and partially closed eyes enhance the feeling that he is lost in thought.  Features such as the elongated ear lobes, high nose, mustache, beard, and bald pate with hair on the sides and back of his head, all suggest a foreign ethnicity and stylistically may derive from a tradition of ascetic sculptures in India. 

            Bearded ascetic figures in this posture have been identified either as the Sakyamuni Buddha shown with a protruding crown (usnisa) on the top of the head and a circle of hair (urna) between his brows; or as a lohan (luohan) guardian of the Buddhist Law without the urna and usnisa.  Lohans portrayed as beings with profound enlightenment akin to that of bodhisattvas is typical of Mahayana Buddhism in East Asia.  They served as intermediaries for universal salvation between humanity and Buddhist paradise.  At the same time, the sensibility of the original ideal of the lohan as a model of individual salvation as it is found in Theravada Buddhism persists in some images.  The extreme asceticism of this lacquer figure, indicated by his emaciated form, recalls the duration of the historical Buddha’s meditation beneath the Bodhi tree.  The Buddha’s meditative period served as a model for others who sought enlightenment through intense ascetic practice.  This iconography seems to have emerged in China during the Yuan dynasty, but it is uncertain how such sculptures were presented and worshipped.  One possibility is that they were donated as objects for meditation in remote Buddhist mountain shrines.  

 

Published References & Reproductions

Art Journal 32 (1973), p. 314 illus. (noted as recent acquisition).

 

La Chronique des Arts, Gazette des Beaux-arts, supplement no. 1249 (Feb. 1973), p. 114, fig. 403.  

 

Record of The Art Museum, Princeton University 32, no. 1 (1973), pp. 27, 30 (noted as recent acquisition).

 

Selections from The Art Museum, Princeton University (Princeton: The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1986), p. 209 illus.

 

Mary Shepard Slusser, "The Art of East Asian Lacquer Sculpture," Orientations 27.1 (1996), p. 28, fig. 22.