Buddhism has become a powerful alternative to Taoism. After the failure of their early policy of persecutions, the Wei decide to control it by gathering the faithful in gigantic artificial grottoes that are suitable for meditation. Created from 460 CE near Datong, the Yungang caves will be extended over time to 53 rooms.
The transfer of the Wei capital from Datong to Luoyang results in the excavation of the new Longmen network of sanctuaries from 494 CE. The destruction of the new capital thirty years later does not interrupt this religious development.
On March 20 in New York, Sotheby's sells a limestone relief 59 cm high, lot 201 estimated $ 1.2M. Unusually this rare piece is easier to date than to identify.
The finely chiseled character has the attitude of meditation with closed eyes, ecstatic smile, palms of the hands joining upwards and a knee on the ground. The lotus buds near the head symbolize purity. The sweetness of the asexual face is an iconography present in the Gongxian caves also created by the latest Northern Wei. An apsara of the same period on a Longmen wall has a similar position.
This figure is classified for convenience among the Apsaras but does not display the classic attributes of these divine nymphs. Who is he or she ? Not a Buddha. Probably not a bodhisattva due to the absence of offering symbols in the hands. Perhaps just the idealized image of a donor.
It is part of a collection of four pre-Tang Buddhist stones that are introduced in the video below.