Chinese - Votive Stele, 543


Votive Stele, 543

Limestone, 142.2 x 81.9 x 62.9 cm (56 x 32 1/4 x 24 3/4 in.)


Object details

Accession number



Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner from the Russian art collector Victor Goloubew (1879-1945), Paris in July 1914, through Bernard Berenson. The purchase price of 55,000 francs was paid on 14 October 1914.


Front of the base (carved): Dedication dated the twenty-fifth day of the fifth lunar month of the first year of the Wu-ting in the Eastern Wei dynasty [corresponding to 2 July 543 AD]. It states seventy people [although seventy-eight donors are listed] headed by the Buddhist disciple Lo Tzu-k'uan, respectfully made a stone image of Sãkyamuni for the benefit of the Emporor, their ancestors of seven generations and their living parents. The name of the bhikshuni (nun) Seng-chih appears at the end, apparently as the donor or writer of the dedication.


Edouard Chavannes. "Six Monuments of Chinese Sculpture." Ars Asiatica (1914), pp. 13-19.
Gilbert Wendel Longstreet and Morris Carter. General Catalogue (Boston, 1935), p. 58, pl. 5.
J.L. Davidson. The Lotus Sutra in Chinese Art (New Haven, 1954), p. 56.
Morris Carter. Isabella Stewart Gardner and Fenway Court (Boston, 1925; Reprint, Boston, 1972), pp. 103-05.
“Notes, Records, Comments.” Gardner Museum Calendar of Events 6, no. 20 (20 Jan. 1963), pp. 1-2.
William N. Mason. “Notes, Records, Comments.” Gardner Museum Calendar of Events 6, no. 47 (21 Jul. 1963), p. 1.
George L. Stout. Treasures from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1969), p. 72-73, ill.
Yasuko Horioka. "Chinese Sculpture-I." Fenway Court (Oct. 1969), pp. 1-8, nos. 1-4.
Rollin van N. Hadley et al. "Berenson and Mrs. Gardner: The Museum Years." Fenway Court (1974), pp. 11-12, ill. 11.
Yasuko Horioka et al. Oriental and Islamic Art: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1975), pp.15-22, no. 5, ill.
Rollin van N. Hadley. Museums Discovered: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. (Boston, 1981), pp. 198-99, ill.
Alan Chong et al. (eds.) Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 2003), pp. 180-82, ill.
Stanley K. Abe. "Collecting Chinese Sculpture: Paris, New York, Boston" in Alan Chong and Noriko Murai. Journeys East: Isabella Stewart Gardner and Asia. Exh. cat. (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 2009), pp. 432-33 fig. 1, 437.

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This votive stele—essentially a tangible prayer—is the most important non-western artwork in the Gardner's collection. Its principal figures, all standing on lotus petals, include the Buddha attended by disciples wearing monastic robes and flanked by bodhisattvas embodying compassion and wisdom. Together they convey messages of universal and personal salvation, appropriate to a votive, an object made in recognition of a prayer fulfilled and donated to a shrine. Seventy-eight donors commissioned this one in honor of the Emperor and their names are listed on its base. This inscription also gives the date of the donation as 2 July 543 CE in a form corresponding to the calendar of the Eastern Wei dynasty.