Stele Commissioned by Helian Ziyue and a Devotional Society of Five Hundred Individuals

Stele Commissioned by Helian Ziyue and a Devotional Society of Five Hundred Individuals

Stele Commissioned by Helian Ziyue and a Devotional Society of Five Hundred Individuals

               The Chinese Stele and the artistic piece, a Devotional Society of Five Hundred Individuals, were crucial to the art, culture, and religion in China during the Eastern Wei Dynasty reign between 534 and 550. The sculpture is made from limestone and this explains its physical outlook and the various characteristics the sculpture adopts due to time. The artwork was commissioned by Helian Ziyue who was an influential figure in Buddhist religion and devotional society. The specific dimensions are height of 308cm, breadth of 112.4cm, and diameter of 30.5com. The sculpture is defined by different inscriptions which were significant to Chinese Wei dynasty. The Stele sculpture is obverse at the bottom and it contains an inscription which is dedicated to the pious figures in the Chinese society. The presence of cartouches in its right side is meant to hold the Priest Huixun, a Buddhist priest who was central to religious ceremonies such as making offerings. Thus, the art pieces are rich in religious tapestry and other elements which symbolize Chinese culture.

               Helian Ziyue, Stele and the art piece of a Devotional Society of Five Hundred Individuals are significant pieces in Asian art and the Buddhist religion, which had penetrated part of China and Asia during the 6th century. The topic is of interest since it exposes the ancient art in China and the influence of religion and history. The inscriptions are part of historical preservation processes, which illustrate the nature of society. The topic seeks to awaken the past and the different social, cultural and religious attitudes that surround art and society. Research prospects for these topics include the determination of the social, cultural, religious and artistic elements and meanings of the sculptures.

Social and Historical Context

The Stele Commissioned by Helian Ziyue and a Devotional Society of Five Hundred Individuals were designed and built in a meticulous manner. They were detailed pieces of art that were part of the He-shuo works and they were created during the reign of Wei Dynasty. The building of the sculpture began during the second year of Yong-xi and its completion was first year of Wu-ding during the month of August. The sculpture was a sophisticated piece which took twelve years and upon completion, Helian Ziyue was chief manager of the temple and the Stele inscriber. Helian Ziyue was an influential figure during the Wei dynasty reigns and he was prominent for his honesty and pious nature. Zelian relevance as a religious and political figure is illustrated in the sculpture where he is featured kneeling down in the upper row. Inclusion of Zelian in the art piece is relevant since he is featured in Chinese history and Buddhist art. The art piece comprises several inscriptions of significant figures that were influential after the dissolution of the Wei dynasty (Metropolitan Museum of Art, et al. 191). Thus, the Stele Commissioned by Helian Ziyue and a Devotional Society of Five Hundred Individuals were a re-creation of the societal forces which led to the shaping of Wei dynasty and the Buddhist religion.

The artwork, a Devotional Society of Five Hundred Individuals is attributed to a significant moment after the dissolution of the Northern Wei Dynasty. The end of the reign led to the subjugation of rebels and subsequent settlement in the Northern Henan Province. These rebels were under Helian Ziyue who was from a chieftain tribe in Ordos. The devotional society was comprised of five hundred individuals who were part of the Stele. Helian Ziyue and other important members of the society were inscribed in the sculpture. The five hundred members were inscribe together with their names and ranks in the society. The naming of the sculpture was based on Helian Ziyue’s dedication to his tribe, clan and the rebel groups (Metropolitan Museum of Art, et al. 191). In essence, the devotional society was part and parcel of Chinese history and religious foundations.

               The sculpture bore artistic and cultural meaning as exemplified in the various inscriptions and the different representations. For example, each side of the Stele obverse represented a religious leader and their expression of reverence to the Buddha. Buddha is a significant religious figure and thus reverence and making sacrifice indicates societal values to religion and devotion to the Supreme Being. Also, Helian Ziyue was a member of the devotional society and thus commissioning the Stele was an act of religious commitment (Metropolitan Museum of Art, et al. 191). Another aspect of religious devotion and meaning in the sculpture is the symbolic portraits and the lotus pedestal, which supports an incense burner. Notably, burning incense is a crucial religious ritual performed to exorcise bad omens, which is a prominent belief and ritual in Buddhist religion. Thus, the sculpture, its inscriptions, and portraits symbolize significant religious and historical facts and figures in the Chinese culture and Buddhist religion.

            Gender representation by the sculpture suggests neutrality as depicted by the sutra illustrations in the sculpture. The upper half of the Stele dramatically represents an episode from sutra. In the midst of the fourteen figures in the sculpture stands Shariputra, a female figure and monk, and this illustrate the place of women in Buddhism. The religion is non-discriminative and women were allowed to undertake several roles. Shariputra’s transformation explains the impermanent and irrelevant gender ideologies, which are part of most cultures (My Manhattan Experience). In essence, the inclusion of Shariputra in the sculpture is a clear depiction of the Buddhist beliefs and values as well as the place of women in the society.

            A religious representation of the sculpture is evident through the engraving of the Buddha as the top niche. The image of the Buddha represents the Thousand Buddha’s which was a symbol of immanence in past Chinese Buddhist art and religion. Other significant figures in the Buddhist religion are two monks and donors which symbolize the role of different figures in Buddhism. Also, the presence of spirit kings and protective divinities in the Chinese sculpture indicate the religious beliefs of the Buddhist religion (Metropolitan Museum of Art, et al. 191). Thus, the Stele comprises different parts which fit into the Chinese cultural and historical attitudes as well as the Buddhist beliefs and gods.

Reflection and Personal Opinion

The Stele Commissioned by Helian Ziyue and a Devotional Society of Five Hundred Individuals are a solid reflection of Chinese culture and the foundation of a Devoted Society, which was a significant group in China’s history and religion. The sculpture possesses significant inscriptions which represent several religious and historical figures in China and thus the research justifies the thesis statement that art pieces are rich in religious tapestry and other elements which symbolize Chinese culture. The Stele is a long and abstruse and its content signifies Helian’s contribution to Chinese history and Buddhist art. The sculpture is meant to recapture Chinese history, the dissolution of the Northern Wei Dynasty and the succession of various figures. The formation of the five hundred members of the Devotional Society implies stability in the society. 

The art piece is crucial in the preservation of various religious and historical leaders in China. The inclusion of engraved names is part of historical preservation of the Chinese figures. The sculpture comprises different depictions of Buddha as a symbol of religion and its importance in the Chinese culture. The inclusion of priests, monks and other religious figures indicates the society’s reverence to religion and a Supreme deity. Despite its age and time effect on its general outlook, the sculpture contains rich information on Chinese culture and the influences of Buddhism on religion and art.

Time span accounts for the sculpture are worn out features and in the midst of these imperfections. The sculpture is a perfect representation of history, meaning that the art piece is as old as the facts and figures it represents. Also, the imperfections represent the dramatic effect represented by the different features in the upper part of the Stele. For example, the upper part is created to symbolize a windblown landscape as indicated by trees in the background and center. The windblown landscape is a representation of the imperfect societal balance as illustrated by the sutra scenario. Thus, the sculpture is a time tested representation of Chinese culture and the complex social beliefs.

Stele Commissioned by Helian Ziyue and a Devotional Society of Five Hundred Individuals are sculptures that focus on the solid foundation of the China after the dissolution of the Wei Dynasty. The sculptures’ features bear significant religious and historical meanings. Features such as Buddha and incense holders signify the religious rituals of the society during the 6th century. The art pieces are inscribed with names and other symbolic texts in Chinese art and culture. Thus, the Stele Commissioned by Helian Ziyue and a Devotional Society of Five Hundred Individuals is a collection of Buddhist and Chinese art and symbols.

Works Cited

Met Museum. “Http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search’q=cache://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/40406.” 2019, www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/40406.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, et al. Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010.

My Manhattan Experience. “My Manhattan Experience.” My Manhattan Experience, 20 Mar. 2014, mymanhattanexperience.tumblr.com/post/80170313010/stele-commissioned-by-helian-ziyue-and-a.


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