This engaging portrait of a monk represents an arhat (in Chinese, lohan), one of a group of “perfected beings” who, in the Buddhist faith, were the original disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha. Like bodhisattvas, arhats have attained perfection but have delayed entering nirvana and becoming buddhas so that they may aid others in seeking enlightenment. Arhats were regarded as having achieved extraordinary spiritual levels that endowed them with superhuman capabilities. Usually appearing in groups of four, sixteen, eighteen, or even as many as five hundred or a thousand, the arhats were depicted as monks and ascetics, sometimes with exaggerated features such as long eyebrows or domed heads, and some were associated with particular attributes. Although lists identifying each arhat exist, the descriptions are generally vague, and precise identifications of individual figures are difficult.
The realism and humanity in the Kimbell arhat’s face contrast with the simplified but rhythmical form of the body to produce a portrait of great character and presence. An inscription on the back of the statue names a large group of donors who commissioned and paid for the work, and gives the name of the temple, Yuhua, in Shanxi province, to which it was donated, and where it may have been installed as part of a larger group of arhat portraits.
(Takashi Yanagi, Kyoto, Japan);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1984.