Compare the present lot with other lapis lazuli Buddhist images: a seated Bodhisattva enclosed within a reliquary shrine, included in the exhibition, Buddhist Art from Rehol - Tibetan Buddhist images and ritual objects from the Qing dynasty Summer Palace at Chengde, the Chang Foundation and Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, 1999, illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 81; and a gilded figure of a seated Buddha, sold in these Rooms, 3 November 1998, lot 1021.
Lapis lazuli is known in Chinese as qing jin shi ('blue gold stone'), a term which appeared to have been coined during the Qing dynasty. There are no known records identifying this specific mineral before the Qing period, cf. M. Wilson, 'The Colour of Stones', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, 1997-98, vol. 62, p. 34. Although excavated lapis lazuli beads date as early as the Western Han period, it is difficult to establish whether the mineral was locally mined or imported. Since the 5th century, the mineral itself was used as a pigment on sculptures and murals in Dunhuang, Maijishan and Binglingsi.
It is possible that the mineral was scarce or that it was mined only in limited quantities. There are stone carvings that have been dyed to imitate lapis, such as the pair of Buddhist lions included in the exhibition, Tributes from Guangdong to the Qing Court, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1987, and illustrated in the Catalogue, nos. 71 and 72; and also a soapstone mountain in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco which has small pieces of metal inserted to imitate pyrite crystals often found as inclusions in the mineral. As such, it is possible to conclude that lapis was highly prized during the 18th and 19th centuries.