A fine and rare soapstone figure of a luohan
Height: 2 7/8 in, 7.3 cm
Seated, holding a bird in both hands; a Buddhist lion plays by his feet. The figure wears a long robe, the hems of which are incised with waves and prunus blossoms, falling off his left shoulder so that the sleeve hangs to one side; straw sandals; earrings; and a bangle on his left arm. His head is superbly carved: his features bear a happy expression, and he has curly hair on his head, chin and upper lip. The Buddhist lion has a wide muzzle with its mouth open showing its teeth, and a muscular body; its mane and tail are finely incised. The soapstone varies in tone from cream to dark orange-red, and bears the remains of original black pigment. The top hem of his robe is carved with two characters in relief, reading Shangjun.
Shangjun is the zi of Zhou Bin, the famous soapstone carver from Zhangzhou in Fujian province.
For an essay on Zhou Bin, see Tsang and Moss, Arts from the Scholar’s Studio, no. 43, pp. 84–5.
A similarly carved figure by Zhou Bin is illustrated in Zhongguo Wenwu Jinghua Da Quan (Metal, Jade, Stone volume), no.242, p. 83. Note another figure, signed Shangjun, in Palace Museum, 50 Selected Gems of Cultural Relics – newly collected in the Palace Museum in the last fifty years, no. 192, p. 144.
For similar examples, see Chen, Shoushan Shidiao Yishu, no. 70, p. 60, in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing; Palace Museum, Images of Buddha: Collections of the Palace Museum, no. 158, p. 225; Wirgin, Fran Kina till Europa, no. 18, p. 34, signed Zixiu; and Zhongguo Meishu Quanji, Vol. 6, no. 157, p. 145, in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing.