East Asia, China, Tang Dynasty, ca. 618 to 906 CE. A well-preserved carved limestone votive stele of an arched form depicting the Buddha with a high ushnisha, seated in a cross-legged meditative pose between two attendants - possibly his disciples Ananda and Mahakasyapa - within a cave, with a pair of dragons forming an amazing intertwining pattern topping the stele to protect the Buddha niche as well as the entire monument. On the verso are eight flying Apsaras or celestial beings surrounding an expressive visage wearing a lotus-shaped crown with deer heads (symbolizing the Buddha's first sermon at Deer Park) emerging. By commissioning this stele, individuals or members of a society would have acquired merit, thereby contributing to each individual’s ultimate enlightenment, which is a primary goal in Buddhism. Size: 16" W x 15.625" H (40.6 cm x 39.7 cm); 20.625" H (52.4 cm) on included custom stand.
See a Wei dynasty votive stele that also features protective dragons and is dated 528 CE in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that is referred to in this article (https://www.metmuseum.org/pubs/bulletins/1/pdf/3258141.pdf.bannered.pdf). According to author of the article Fong Chow, Associate Curator of Far Eastern Art at the Met in the 1960s, "The use of dragons as guardians of sacred objects dates back at least to the Han period, and continues to be the standard way of decorating votive monuments down to the Ming (1368-1644) and Ch'ing (1644-1912) dynasties.
See this article for a 2008 exhibition that included a Tang dynasty stele that also featured such protective dragons in an exhibition at Columbia University entitled, "Treasures Rediscovered: Chinese Stone Sculpture from the Sackler Collections at Columbia University."
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection; ex-John Krysko collection, New York, USA, acquired in France in the 1980s
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Expected surface wear commensurate with age, but the carving is remarkably vivid.