AuthorLiu, Hao

As a highly sought-after category, Buddhist sculptures have already become one of the most coveted lots in international auction houses. While most auction houses have achieved some degree of success in the sales of Asian Buddhist sculptures, such sales inevitably raise intercultural sensitivities, necessitating the adoption of a cautious approach. A recently published piece of auction information from Japan caused controversy within Chinese collection circles in early October 2020. Toei International Auction Co., Ltd announced in its E-Catalogue that the Toeikokusai auction to be held on 20 October 2020 would include an intricately carved limestone Buddha head from the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD) from a private Japanese collection, marked as Lot 223 (Figure 1). This Lot would also go under the hammer in the forthcoming spring auction in Ginza Tokyo.

Figure 1 Details Title: Lot.223 Nameplate: Ancient Chinese Buddha Head Classification: Stone Sculpture Period: Tang Dynasty (618-907AD) Dimensions: 44.5cm H * 33.7cm L * 30.4cm W * W 55.5 kg Provenance: Private Japanese Collection Special Notice: No VAT on hammer price/buyer's premium. As in many other cases involving lost art and other cultural objects, the parties were at pains to produce expert evidence relating to archaeological provenance and authenticity, issues that are extremely difficult to establish. In view of the unique nature of Lot 223,

China's National Administration of Cultural Heritage (NACH) instigated an immediate series of investigations. Preliminary evidence shows that Lot 223 is suspected to be a lost relic from Tianlongshan Grottoes, which houses 500 ancient statues of Buddha and his disciples. It is a key national heritage conservation unit situated in Taiyuan, Central China's Shanxi province.

In the early 1920s, the publication by the Japanese art dealer Yamanaka Sadajiro of a book on the Tianlongshan Grottoes' contents led to a sharp increase in collectors' interest. For this reason, a significant number of Buddhist sculptures in Tianlongshan Grottoes 'made their way' from these grottoes and were sold to private collectors all over the world. Given this information, experts at the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Taiyuan Museum of Tianlongshan Grottoes have made field investigations at the Tianlongshan Grottoes (Figure 2).

They found that the photo of Lot 223 closely resembles the head of a Buddha statue at the Tianlongshan Grottoes, as shown in a photo taken by Japanese scholars in the 1920s at those Grottoes (Figure 3). The only difference is that the head of this Buddha statue is now missing from this cave. After making thorough comparisons between these photos and the photos in Toei's catalogue, experts found the following striking resemblances:

* The Buddha's head has finely chiselled features.

* The right cheek of this Buddha's head has flaking and variegated traces.

* The eyes of this Buddha's head are downcast and the...

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