Stele Commissioned by Li Zhewang (李真王), Yao Langzi (姚郎字), and Other Members of a Devotional Society
Northern Wei dynasty (386–534)
Limestone with traces of pigment
H. 7 in. (17.8 cm); W. 23 7/8 in. (60.6 cm); D. 9 1/2 in. (24.1 cm)
The Sackler Collections, Purchase, The Sackler Fund, 1965
Steles of this type were common in the early sixth century. The dedicatory inscription on the base dates the work to the sixth month of the year 528 and indicates that it was commissioned by a group of seventy individuals on behalf of the emperor, the country, and various ancestors. As was customary, symbolic portraits of these patrons, arranged hierarchically, can be seen on the front, sides, and back of the stele. The two most important individuals are depicted inside small pavilions at top, and other major figures are shown just above the inscription, accompanied by attendants. The grouping of a central Buddha with two bodhisattvas and two monks is typical of the period, as are the two lions and two guardians.
A brief interpolation between the main text and the date in the inscription states that a certain individual performed a meritorious act in about 742, a time when Buddhists and their beliefs were under attack. It is therefore possible that the individual in question rescued this stele from destruction. It is unclear whether the faces of the primary icons where destroyed during this period of persecution or at a later point in the stele's long history. The acrobats on either side of the monks mimic the types of performances and celebrations that would have taken place at the consecration of public monuments such as this stele.
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