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Bonhams to auction marble figure of a Buddhist disciple from the Tang Dynasty

Bonhams is to auction rare marble figure of a Buddhist disciple from the Tang Dynasty dated 718 AD, for £200,000 to £300,000 in its sale of Fine Chinese Art on November 8 in London.

The interest in the piece itself is enhanced by its connection to the great French collector, Léonce Filatriau. Born in Pondichéry, India, in 1875, he went on to a political career that took him from India to Dahomey in French West Africa and then Indochina (Viet Nam). During his 35 years spent in the Far East, Léonce Filatriau patiently built up an imposing collection of Chinese art objects, including this rare Tang Dynasty marble figure, which was the highlight of his collection.

The marble figure of the Buddhist disciple, probably Ananda, is remarkable for its documentary inscription incised on the reverse of the pedestal, which may be translated as ‘Made respectfully on the 12th day of the 4th month of the 5th year of the Kaiyuan era in the Great Tang’ corresponding to 718 AD, during the reign of the Xuanzong Emperor. The marble figure is exceptionally sculpted, successfully rendering a peaceful and contemplative expression, and the elegant and finely sculpted lines of the robe fall in waves at the front over the undergarment which is secured by a knot at the chest and draped over the arms in a realistic manner. The figure is sculpted with the left hand raised in abhaya mudra and the right hand in varada mudra holding a rosary.

The Tang Dynasty Emperors used all three major beliefs – Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism – to secure popular support for their dynasty and in so doing reinforced the close association of sculpture and state.

The present extremely rare marble figure of a disciple belongs to the Buddhist category and resembles in its modeling a monumental limestone figure of a disciple, Tang Dynasty, from the Fengxian temple, Longmen, in Henan province.

Returning to France in 1932, after the premature death of his wife Marie-Blanche (1927), Léonce Filatriau decided to put his collection up for auction in 1936. This event was covered in the well known French newspaper Les Figaro on October 1936 in an article titled Vente D’Une Imposante et Magnifique Collection Chinois. His dearest wish was to return to the Far East in order to spend his retirement building a collection even more exquisite than his previous one. However, due to the outbreak of the Second World War he was not able to fulfill his dream. He died on 1 March 1943 in Paris, aged 68.