From Yi county, Hebei province, northern
Liao dynasty (AD 907-1125)
A disciple of the Buddha
This figure was made in the Liao dynasty, following the sculptural traditions developed in the Tang dynasty (AD 618-906). It was found with seven others, in a cave in Yi county, Hebei province, northern China. All but one are now in Western museums.
A luohan (Sanskrit: arhat) was a disciple of the Buddha. The luohans had magical powers and could stay alive indefinitely to preserve the Buddha's teachings. In China, they were often shown in groups of sixteen.
Sets of luohan figures were placed along the side walls of a temple's entrance, or in groups of pairs on either side of the main Buddha figure. To show respect for the humanity and compassion in their teachings, they were often made to look like particular individuals, with strongly characterized features. This example, with his calm, serious face, represents the aspiration of the educated man to attain enlightenment.
The figure is glazed in colours of the sancai (three-colour) palette of the Tang dynasty. The banding on the yellow robe represents the patchwork worn by monks as a sign of humility.
S.J. Vainker, Chinese pottery and porcelain, (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)
J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)