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Head of a Pratyeka Buddha

Chinese, Sui dynasty, 581-618, Sui Dynasty
6th century - 7th century
38.1 cm x 29.21 cm x 24.13 cm (15 in. x 11 1/2 in. x 9 1/2 in.)

On view


In the Buddhist religion, a Pratyekabuddha (in Sanskrit, literally “a lone buddha” or “a Buddha on his own”) is a celestial being who lived in seclusion and concentrated his energies on the one objective of spiritual self-advancement, praying in solitude to obtain enlightenment and emancipation (nirvana) on his own without the use of teachers or guides. The Pratyeka Buddha is traditionally depicted wearing a spiral cap of the type on the Dumbarton Oaks sculpture. This headdress is formed seemingly from strips of cloth wound concentrically around the head and tied in bows above the ears from which streamers hang down to the neck. The headdress may symbolize that the Pratyeka Buddha has enwrapped himself in the spiritual realm of his own inner being, thus allowing him to fall asleep as he enters the nirvanic state. In the Dumbarton Oaks sculpture, the Buddha’s eyes are almost shut as if in deep religious contemplation.

This sculpture is one of the few remaining pieces of an important and fairly extensive collection of ancient Chinese art that the Blisses acquired in the 1920s and 1930s. Although they initially intended to give this collection to Harvard University, Edward Forbes, then Director of the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard, advised them against continuing to collect in areas already represented in Washington, D.C. public collections, as was the case with the ancient Chinese collection, which was well represented in the Freer Gallery. Forbes wrote Robert Bliss in 1935, “In general, the wiser principle would be to stick more or less to Byzantine art, great paintings, and sculpture… .” The Blisses later sold much of their ancient Chinese collection in order to raise acquisition endowment for the Byzantine Collection, which had become the primary focus of the early research institution.

J. Carder

Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 294f, ill.

Exhibition History
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, 1927.

"The Collector's Microbe: Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss and the Dumbarton Oaks Collections," Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, Apr. 9 - Nov. 9, 2008.

Acquisition History
Collection of Mr. K. Fahraeus, Stockholm.

Purchased from Mr. K. Fahraeus, Stockholm, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 9/1925.

Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 9/1925-11/29/1940.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.

Bow | Circular | Conical | Headdresses|Helmets | Male