Met curator Denise Leidy on ugliness and divinity in Arhat (Luohan) dating from China’s Liao dynasty, c. 1000.
This nearly life-size sculpture and its companion piece are part of a group of about sixteen works that have been known in the West since 1913. They are thought to have come from a cave in Yixian, in Hebei province, and they represent arhats (or luohans, as they are known in China). Arhats were thought to have achieved an advanced (although not perfected) state of spiritual development, and they eventually became recognized as protectors of Buddhism. Both works are justifiably acclaimed as masterpieces of ceramic sculpture, both for their size and for the quality of their glaze, a three-toned or colored glaze known as sancai. The discovery of an ancient kiln in a village near Beijing in 1983 and its subsequent excavation in 1985 yielded much information that could be used to date these extraordinary sculptures. It seems reasonable, therefore, to date the more technically challenging, life-size works slightly later, probably to the late tenth or eleventh century.
View this work on Khan Academy here or on metmuseum.org.
Created by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.