The Metropolitan Museum of Art Will Sell 300-Plus Chinese Works of Art Donated by Florence and Herbert Irving

More than 300 Chinese works of art gifted by philanthropists and Asian art collectors Florence and Herbert Irving to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will be offered during Sotheby’s Asia Week in September.

Proceeds from the sale will fully benefit an Irving Acquisition Fund established by the museum to diversify its art collections. Sotheby’s didn’t disclose the total estimate of the collection.

In March 2015, the Irvings donated almost 1,300 works of art to the museum’s Department of Asian Arts for its centennial. At that time, they agreed that the Met could sell any of the works as long as the proceeds went toward future acquisitions.

READ MORE: Qing Dynasty Jade Washing Bowl From the Irvings Collection Sold for US$3 Million at Christie’s

Herbert Irving, one of the founders of Sysco Corp., the world’s largest food-services provider, died at his Manhattan apartment overlooking The Met in October 2016, at age 98. Florence died in July 2018, also at 98.

The Irvings made generous donations through the decades to the Met, which named its Asia art wing for the couple in 2004. Additionally, the Irvings donated more than $300 million to Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

“Our sales are representative of the Irvings’ exceptional taste in Chinese art,” says Angela McAteer, head of Sotheby’s Chinese works of art department in New York, “which features a strong emphasis on organic materials and works hewn from nature, as well as extraordinary Chinese jades produced during the reign of the Qianlong emperor.”
A white and apple-green jadeite “Landscape” table screen is expected to fetch up to $120,000 at Sotheby’s this September. Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Leading the sale is a finely carved spinach-green jade brush pot, formerly in the collection of English businessman and art collector Alfred Morrison (1821-97), and kept at Fonthill, his famed English country house.

The brush pot is an extremely luxurious item for the scholar’s desk. It was made from a large, high-quality boulder that would not have been easily available before the Qianlong Emperor’s 1759 conquest of the Western Territories—areas where such jades were produced.

The carvings feature immortals surrounded by auspicious elements, such as deer and lingzhi, a Chinese medicinal herb that is regarded as the “herb of spiritual potency.”

The brush pot has a presale estimate of between $500,000 and $700,000.

Including the brush pot, over 120 archaic and Qing dynasty (1644-1911) jades along with porcelain, sculptures, and objects for the scholar’s studio will be auctioned in a dedicated sale on Sept. 10 at Sotheby’s New York.

Additional items will be sold at Sotheby’s Asian Art auction on Sept. 14. Public exhibitions will open in Sotheby’s New York galleries on Sept. 6.

Exhibition on ancient Buddha statues opens in Beijing

BEIJING, Aug. 9 (Xinhua) — An exhibition featuring ancient Buddha statues which date back thousands of years has opened to the public at the National Museum of China in Beijing.

A total of 171 pieces (sets) of cultural relics are being showcased, including 131 Buddha statues from the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), most of which are made of white marble and are painted or gilded.

The exhibition mainly displays Buddha statues unearthed in 2012 from Yecheng, a historic site in Hebei Province’s Linzhang County.

Yecheng, which once served as a political center in ancient China, is famous for its Buddhism culture and is representative of Chinese Buddhism art due to its exquisiteness, variety in style and themes of its Buddha statues.

The exhibition, split into three individual parts, will run until Oct. 6.

(190807) — BEIJING, Aug. 7, 2019 (Xinhua) — Photo taken on Aug. 6, 2019 shows exhibits during a buddhist statue exhibition held at National Museum of China in Beijing, capital of China. A total of 171 exhibits including 131 buddhist statues from Linzhang County of north China’s Hebei Province were on display. (Xinhua/Jin Liangkuai)

Nara Buddhist statue cleaned before Bon festival

The Great Buddha statue in the ancient capital of Nara, western Japan, has undergone its annual cleaning ahead of the midsummer Bon Festival.

The 15-meter-high statue at Todaiji temple is dusted off every year on August 7. The cleaning is designed to prepare for the festival, when people pay respects to their ancestors.

On Wednesday morning, priests conducted a ceremony to temporarily remove the Buddha’s soul from the statue.

About 180 priests and worshippers then climbed onto the statue to clean and polish, using brooms and dusters.

Some were raised in baskets suspended from the ceiling of the hall housing the statue so they could clean parts those on the statue cannot reach, including its face and chest.

Many people came to watch the cleaning.

A student of cultural properties from neighboring Osaka Prefecture said it was her first time to see the process and she was very impressed that the work involves so many people.

5 minutes with… A Nepalese bronze figure of Buddha Ratnasambhava

Jacqueline Dennis Subhash, Head of Christie’s Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art department, explains how and why this sculpture was made, and recalls her visits to the bronze workshops of the Kathmandu Valley

Almost half a metre in height, this large, gilt-bronze figure of a buddha was made some time between the 17th and 18th centuries by the renowned Newari artisans of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal.

‘The Newari have been making Buddhist statues since at least the sixth century, transmitting deep iconographical knowledge gleaned from sacred texts through the generations,’ explains Jacqueline Dennis Subhash, the head of Christie’s Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art department.

Twenty years ago, when Subhash was a Tibetan Studies undergraduate at university in Kathmandu, she regularly visited their workshops. ‘There are foundries everywhere throughout the valley, still alive and well,’ she says. ‘Even today you could walk into one and commission a gilt-bronze statue of your choice.’

A rare gilt-bronze figure of Buddha Ratnasambhava, Nepal, 17th-18th century. Height 46 cm (18⅛ in). Estimate $700,000-900,000. Offered in Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Works of Art on 11 September 2019 at Christie’s in New York

A rare gilt-bronze figure of Buddha Ratnasambhava, Nepal, 17th-18th century. Height: 46 cm (18⅛ in). Estimate: $700,000-900,000. Offered in Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Works of Art on 11 September 2019 at Christie’s in New York

The Newari create their sculptures using the lost-wax technique. It involves coating a wax model in clay mixed with dung and rice husks, then firing it to melt the wax and leave a hollow cast into which molten bronze can be poured.

In the Kathmandu Valley, craftspeople use a particularly high volume of copper in their bronze alloy, 85-95 per cent, which gives the metal a deep russet tone — visible here on the sculpture’s reverse.

‘This sculpture would have been a treasure from the moment it was made’

Like many Nepalese bronze sculptures, this figure has been fire-gilded — a process that involves washing the statue with gold and mercury. When fired, the mercury evaporates to leave a gilded film bonded to the surface.

‘Mercury vapours are very toxic,’ warns Subhash. ‘Mercury poisoning is still common in Nepal, but to help combat it, artisans practice an ancient technique of standing upwind with a mouthful of raw meat, which is believed to absorb the vapours.’

It’s the mudra or hand gesture that makes this figure identifiable as Ratnasambhava
It’s the mudra or hand gesture that makes this figure identifiable as Ratnasambhava

Subhash can’t think of more than ten bronze buddhas of this calibre that have gone under the hammer during the past decade. ‘And of those ten, only a third were Nepalese,’ she adds. ‘When you also consider the fact that this statue has been in the same private German collection since 1973, its sale becomes an exceptional moment.’

And if Subhash was to own it? ‘Can’t you just picture him on a Noguchi table in front of a Rothko?’ she says with a smile. ‘Timeless.’

Drought reveals lost temple in Thailand submerged by dam

LOPBURI, Thailand: Thousands are flocking to see a Buddhist temple in central Thailand exposed after drought drove water levels to record lows in a dam reservoir where it had been submerged.

As the reservoir reaches less than 3 per cent of capacity, the remains of Wat Nong Bua Yai, a modern temple submerged during the construction of the dam 20 years ago, have become visible in the middle of dry ground.

Some Buddhist monks were among the hundreds of people who walked through broken temple structures on cracked earth littered with dead fish last week to pay respects to a headless 4m-tall Buddha statue, adorning it with flowers.

A family prays near the ruins of a headless Buddha statue
A family prays near the ruins of a headless Buddha statue, which has resurfaced in a dried-up dam due to drought. (Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun)

“The temple is normally covered by water. In the rainy season you don’t see anything,” said one of the visitors, Somchai Ornchawiang, a 67-year-old retired teacher.

He regretted the temple flooding but is now worried about the damage the drought is causing to farmland, he added.

The dam, with capacity of 960 million cubic meters, normally irrigates more than 1.3 million acres (526,000 ha) of farmland in four provinces, but the drought has cut that to just 3,000 acres in the single province of Lopburi.

The meteorological department says Thailand is facing its worst drought in a decade, with water levels in dams nationwide having fallen far short of the monthly average.

Yotin Lopnikorn, 38, headman of the Nong Bua village that used to be near the temple, recalls visiting it with friends as a child, before dam construction forced the villagers out.

“When I was young, I always came to meet friends at the elephant sculptures in front of the main building to play there,” Yotin said.

At the time, the temple was the centre of the community, used to conduct rituals, festivities and educational activities, besides functioning as a playground and recreational area.

Next to the temple compound are the remains of 700 households of the village.

The ruins have reappeared before, after a drought in 2015.

“This is the second time I have seen this temple in this condition,” said Yotin. “Now I think we need to save this place.”

Source: Reuters/ga

An Giang’s 140-year-old Khmer pagoda

By Phong Vinh
This colorful pagoda is a place of worship for Khmer people in Tinh Bien Town, the Mekong Delta province of An Giang.

An Giang’s 140-year-old Khmer pagoda

Moi Pagoda, built by the Khmer, is situated on Road 91, 2 km from the Tinh Bien International Border Market. It is home to Theravada monks and also a place of worship for Khmer people in the Xuan Hoa residential cluster.

An Giang’s 140-year-old Khmer pagoda - 1

Its architecture is a combination of the Khmer’s decorative art and the colorful designs of the Angkor culture. From its gates and roofs to interiors, there are numerous figures of birds, nymphs and Naga, the god of snakes.

An Giang’s 140-year-old Khmer pagoda - 2

The main hall has a high ceiling. An idol of the Buddha seated on a lotus is in the middle of the hall. The year of construction is recorded on a wall: 2421 in the Buddhist calendar. We are now in 2563.

An Giang’s 140-year-old Khmer pagoda - 3

Surrounding the Buddha idol are sharp sculptural details in vivid colors.

An Giang’s 140-year-old Khmer pagoda - 4

Inside the main hall are paintings about the life and teachings of the Buddha.

An Giang’s 140-year-old Khmer pagoda - 5

Outside the main hall, under a canopy of palm trees is a long line of towers built by Buddhist followers. The towers are in many different sizes depending on the donation made by each family.

Chau Phol, who has been a voluntary worker here for more than 50 years, said the pagoda retains its original architecture. “We have just opened a new hall for welcoming guests and organizing festivals.”

An Giang’s 140-year-old Khmer pagoda - 6

The pagoda has a lot of greenery with many kinds of trees.

Despite his limited Vietnamese, Phol often tells visitors about the history of the pagoda.

An Giang’s 140-year-old Khmer pagoda - 7

In Khmer tradition, local people and Buddhists come to the pagoda to help prepare for festivals and other special celebrations. This photo shows making of flowers for decoration during the inauguration of the pagoda’s new hall.

Rare Ancient Buddhist Text Discovered In Doomed Temple Super-Complex Near Kabul

Archaeologists in Afghanistan have discovered exceptionally rare pieces of an ancient Buddhist manuscript dated to around the seventh century AD at an ancient settlement near Kabul.

In the spring of 1963, a French geologist set out from Kabul to survey a large outcrop of copper-bearing strata in the mountains above the village of Mes Aynak, approximately 40 kilometers southeast of Kabul in Logar province in eastern Afghanistan. There, he discovered a vast religious settlement occupied between the third and seventh centuries located at a key location on the famed Silk Road connecting Asia and the Middle East.

Now, if you ask people to name the world’s oldest printed book the most common reply is Gutenberg’s Bible , but Buddhist texts, the Diamond Sutra for example, that was printed in AD 868, was compiled about 550 years before Gutenberg was born. Regarding these newly discovered texts the Japanese daily The Mainichi reported that an Afghan archaeological institute stated, “The sutras written in Sanskrit on tree bark and were discovered on a hillside a few years ago in Mes Aynak ,” and it is suspected that the manuscripts might have been “housed in an archive.”

A Saigon pagoda truly open to sentient beings – no doors, no walls

The entrance to the Ky Quang 2 stone pagoda is door-less, following the Buddha’s precept of welcoming all sentient beings.

Door-less stone pagoda in Saigon - 1

The Ky Quang 2 Pagoda in Saigon’s Go Vap District, built mostly of stone, has no doors. Instead, two statues of the Buddha stand and sit at the entrance.

Venerable Thich Thien Chieu, the pagoda’s abbot since 1975, said the architecture was a harmonious combination of Buddhist teachings and Vietnamese culture.

“The pagoda has no roof to see in every direction, no doors to welcome all beings, no walls and no pillars that separate and limit human beings.”

A Saigon pagoda truly open to sentient beings - no doors, no walls - 1

A three-meter tall gold-plated Buddha statue on a lotus is placed on top of the pagoda’s gate. The work is called Thien Tam Linh or Divine Spirit, which resides between heaven and earth.

Roof-less stone pagoda in Saigon

Built in 1926, the Ky Quang 2 Pagoda started out as a village pagoda in Go Vap District and was originally named Thanh Chau Tu. In 2000, it was completely rebuilt on an area of nearly 7,500 square meters. The complex was designed by the abbot.

A Saigon pagoda truly open to sentient beings - no doors, no walls - 3

Different Buddha statues are placed underneath the Bodhi tree inside the pagoda.

A Saigon pagoda truly open to sentient beings - no doors, no walls - 4

The entrance to the main building is a series of steps inside a rock cave.

A Saigon pagoda truly open to sentient beings - no doors, no walls - 5

Inside the hall of the main building is a series of marble Buddha statues. This is the place of chanting and meditation for monks, nuns and worshippers. The two sides of this dome are stylized in the shape of a lotus.

A Saigon pagoda truly open to sentient beings - no doors, no walls - 6

La Thi Xuan Ly, 82, a resident of Go Vap District, said: “I come here every week to pray. The pagoda looks beautiful and has a calm feeling as if it is our house.”

A Saigon pagoda truly open to sentient beings - no doors, no walls - 7

A shrine dedicated to worship the Hung Kings (2879-258 BCE), the nation’s mythical founders, and Mother Au Co, a mountain fairy honored as the mother of Vietnamese civilization.

The shrine is also decorated with banh chung (square rice cake) and banh day (round rice cake), Vietnam’s two traditional cakes.

A Saigon pagoda truly open to sentient beings - no doors, no walls - 8

A section of the pagoda is decorated with Bodhisattva Buddha statue litted up with colorful lights.

A Saigon pagoda truly open to sentient beings - no doors, no walls - 9

The pagoda also has Tran Nhan Tong, third emperor of the Tran Dynasty, reigning Dai Viet from 1278 to 1293 as a deity. The emperor and his father were supreme commanders who led the Tran Dynasty to final victories against the Mongol invaders, ushering in a long period of peace and prosperity in the country.

A Saigon pagoda truly open to sentient beings - no doors, no walls - 10

The pagoda is also a shelter where abandoned and disabled children are cared for. The abbot said that this activity started in 1994 and the pagoda currently takes care of more than 240 children.

Feature: Candle Festival preserves Thailand’s tradition, craftsmanship

UBON RATCHATHANI, Thailand, July 18 (Xinhua) — Granny Nongyao takes her granddaughter to a temple to make wax carving every year when Thailand enters the Buddhist festival Khao Phansa.

The 70-year-old devout buddhist, together with 7-year-old girl who was enjoying a two-day public holiday from Tuesday, have been carving some intricate patterns on wax for several hours in the outdoor complex of the temple in the scorching Ubon Ratchathani, a northeastern province famed for its most elaborated and largest candle festival of the country.

“Working on the carving is a pleasure. We contribute these pieces to the giant wax sculpture of the temple. Everyone is welcome to join the work. This is the way we make merits in the Khao Phansa Day,” said Nongyao who invited Xinhua journalist to make the carving.

Khao Phansa marks the start of the three-month rains retreat period which is referred to as “Buddhist Lent.”

This tradition stems from a time long before electricity had been invented. During the period monks were not permitted to travel away from their own temple and relied on candlelight more than ever to study and carry on their daily routines during the darker days of the rainy season. Originally, the donation of candles to temples was a simple and practical way to make merit.

In some provinces in Thailand, this tradition nowadays evolved into friendly competition with local communities aiming to outdo each other by creating bigger and more elaborate candles to donate. In Ubon Ratchathani, wax sculptures are created to mark the arrival of Khao Phansa.

The light yellow carving pieces growing under the grandma and granddaughter’s fingers were passed to a young craftsman sitting on ladder polishing a five-meter tall wax sculpture.

The man, head of the 15-strong team, was sticking the yellow pieces on the surface of the 3-meter tall sculpture portraying an excerpt from the story of Buddha when Queen Maya of Sakya or mother of Buddha had a vision in her dream.

“It took about 60 painstaking days to make the sculpture. It’s the last process of the piece before it’s to be displayed on parade during the Candle Festival. It’s of great charm and a sacred job, ” said the man who works on temple architectures.

Skillful artisans working on wax carving are few in the country as wax sculpture is not a major in any institute. Craftsmen in Ubon Ratchthani, a province in Thailand’s poorest northeast, are usually paid less than in big cities like Bangkok.

Fifty-three ornately carved wax deities, angels, and animals depicting Hindu and Buddhist tales were paraded through town on floats on Wednesday. Each represented a local temple, district or institution and were accompanied by dancers and musicians in traditional costume.

At the end of the parade, a winner is selected and showcased for the rest of the year at its temple. The following year, the wax is recycled and used for new wax sculptures.

The Candle Festival culminated in celebrations on Wednesday.

Children pulled colorful balloons amid folk music. Groups of men in sun hats bang out the rhythm on the long drums as local musicians picked up the beat on their country-style electric guitars. All people there were enjoying the event – elegantly dressed women danced, teenagers snapped selfies and families had picnics.

“The town is usually quiet. Tourists flock to the festival every year, helping to boost the local economy here,” said Pat, a tourist van driver.

“Locals are delighted to join it, like a big party, from making candle carvings to parading, which helps to preserve the tradition and craftsmanship. It’s the charm of the festival, something more important than tourist revenue,” said the local driver.

Ancient statue found in Siem Reap

An incomplete piece of a statue measuring over one metre, thought to be an ancient remain, was found in the northeastern corner of Preah Ko temple in Siem Reap province’s Ov Lork village on Monday.

Ly Vanna, director of the Department of Conservation of Monuments and Preventative Archaeology with the Apsara Authority, said the statue was incomplete, noting that only the body was found, while the head, both hands and feet were missing.

“The statue is made of sandstone, and there are carvings that depict a short skirt with fishtail patterns that sits above the knee, along with a belt,” he said. “The kind of clothing is similar to that of Vishnu of Preah Ko style, as a Vishnu statue is currently displayed in the National Museum in Phnom Penh.”

“However, unfortunately the statue does not have a head or hands, which make it difficult to determine. If the statue had four hands, it can be confirmed as that of Vishnu,” he added. “But if it only has two hands, it could be Shiva. However, if we only rely on the outline of the statue, we can conclude that it is Vishnu from Brahmanism.”

He said that Apsara Authority would take the statue to clean and study for documentation before sending it for keeping in Preah Norodom Sihanouk-Angkor Museum in the future.

Thai Mech, a resident who found the statue, was quoted by the Apsara Authority as saying that he often crossed Preah Ko temple moat, but he did not notice the statue before. However, when he passed the area on Monday, he dug the ground and found the statue, which measures 1.14 metres.

“At first, I did not think it was a statue, but looking at the shape of the stone I continued to dig and found the statue,” he said. “Afterwards, I reported it to the Heritage Protection Police for safety.”

First Lieutenant Oun Yong, a heritage police in Angkor Archaeological Park’s Roluos, said people have discovered statues in the past and always reported it to the police for safe keeping and research.

“I would like to appeal to everyone who has found any statues or archaeological remains anywhere to please hand it over or report it to authorities for inspection,” he said.