- Museum number
Stoneware figure of Budai Hesheng decorated in polychrome enamels and with biscuit-fired areas, by Liu Zhen (according to inscription). One of the most popular items in the Chinese collections among visitors to the Museum's Hotung Gallery, this almost life-size 'Falstaffian' porcelain figure represents Budai Hesheng seated at ease with one knee raised on a rectangular plinth. He is depicted as a fat smiling bald man with elongated earlobes and a vast spreading stomach. Budai is dressed in the loose amber-coloured robes of a mendicant Buddhist monk and holds a large green-glazed cloth bag under his right arm and the drawstring in his hand. All areas of exposed flesh, such as his face, hands, feet and belly, are fired in the biscuit, lending a certain naturalism to the sculpture. In addition to this his eyes are glazed. His robes are edged with a border of scrolling flowers and foliage which is delicately incised and coloured with pale cream, amber and green glazes on a black ground. The tiered plinth is incised beneath the glaze on the right-hand side with a dedicatory inscription giving details of the date when the figure was made, the priest who solicited contributions for it, the donors' names and the maker of the figure. It is pierced with large holes for carrying the figure on either side. Budai's ears are pierced for the escape of gasses during firing. Several of the characters of the inscription are obscured as the plinth was broken during its journey from China, prior to arrival at the British Museum in 1937. Indeed it is likely that the damage
precipitated the donation of the figure to the Museum by the Chinese art dealer John Sparks as prospective clients would have been discouraged from purchasing such a restored sculpture.
- Production date
- 1486 (dated)
Height: 119.20 centimetres
Width: 65 centimetres
Depth: 41 centimetres
- Curator's comments
While in China some believers worship Budai as an incarnation of Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future, he is also numbered among the 'Luohan'. 'Luohan' (known in Sanskrit as 'arhats'; in Japanese as 'rakan') are enlightened disciples of Buddha whose role is to teach mankind the path to salvation and to protect the Buddhist faith. Budai is also known as the 'Calico-bag Monk'and his bag is supposed to contain precious things.
Nick Pearce suggested that three other figures, stylistically similar to the British Museum's Budai image and with similar inscriptions, might with the present piece belong to a larger traditional group of Eighteen 'Luohan'. All four are dated 1484, signed by the same master craftsman Liu Zhen, and were dedicated by the same priest, Dao Ji. All were sold through the London dealer John Sparks. These are a seated 'Luohan' in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow, a seated Guanyin in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Liverpool, National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, and a Bodhidharma in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The donor names are different on each figure.
The palette and glaze of this figure are remarkably similar to those of an incense burner in the form of a duck, with a Chenghua reign mark and of the period, excavated from the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province.
Published: Hobson 1936, pl. XXIXa; Riddell 1979, pp. 116-17; Pearce 1994, fig. 3.
Compare figures in Victoria and Albert Museum and Burrell Collection, Glasgow.
- On display (G33/od)
- Acquisition date
- Registration number