Figure of a Luohan. China, 1279-1368 AD. Museum no. A 29-1931

Figure of a Luohan. China, 1279-1368 AD. Museum no. A 29-1931

Figure of a Luohan
Northern China
1279-1368 AD
Wood with traces of paint
Museum no. A 29-1931

This wooden sculpture represents a Luohan, the name for a monk who acts as a guardian of Buddhism and is believed to have attained enlightenment through merit and virtue. The Luohan was a member of the Buddhist pantheon in China, and the earliest representations can be traced to the 4th century AD. These figures were usually placed in groups near the Buddha in temples and monasteries. Over time, depictions of Luohans evolved from individualized to more formalized portraits. The use of these images was further encouraged by the Chan (Zen) Buddhist sects, which stressed the importance of having a religious teacher and an interaction between master and pupil.

The style of this example suggests that the piece was made in north China where many workshops excelled in carved and painted wooden sculpture.

The appreciation for Chinese sculpture in Europe developed alongside an enthusiasm for earlier Chinese ceramics, and during the 1920s and 1930s the Museum acquired some outstanding examples, including this Luohan.