A RARE CELADON JADE BOOK
LATE 18TH/EARLY 19TH CENTURY
Comprising eight rectangular plaques, incised and gilded to depict a total of sixteen Luohan in various pursuits, each accompanied by a five line inscription illuminating their character, the semi-translucent stone of a pale olive-green tone with speckled opaque grey and white inclusions, all bordered in dark blue board painted in gold and silver with acanthus leaves and lotus blossoms, mounted as a book with hardwood covers finely carved with lotus scrolls, the endleaves finely painted in gold and silver with five-clawed dragons and immortals, followed by paintings of two further immortals , the front carved with the characters, Yuzhi shiliu luohan zan, 'By Imperial Command: In Praise of the Sixteen Luohan'
7 11/16 x 4 5/8 in. (194 x 116 mm.) bound book, brocade box (or cover)
Images of Luohan or Arhat probably originated in Kashmir, and were first mentioned in the Mahayanavataraka which was translated into Chinese in AD 437; their names were later identified by the early Tang pilgrim monk Xuanzang in AD 654. According to early text, these divine beings remained on the earthly world to defend the Buddhist doctrine and to await the redeeming Buddha, Maitreya. For a discussion on images of the Luohan, see W. Ho and W. C. Fong, "Some Buddhist Images," Possessing the Past: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Metropolitan Museum, New York, 1996, pp. 210-217.
A similar jade book of twelve tablets, four of the covers are of bronze decorated with repoussé dragon, dated to the late 18th century, is illustrated by W. Watson, in Chinese Jade Books in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, 1963, pls. 6, 7, and 8. Although the pictorial representation and text are different, the names appears to be in the same order as the present book. The sixteen personalities are listed as: Ingita, Ajita, Vanavasi, Kalika, Vajriputra, Bhadra, Kanakavatsa, Kanaka Bharadvaja, Bakkula, Rahula, Chuda Panthaka, Pindola Bharadvaja, Panthaka, Nagasena, Gopaka, and Abheda, ibid., pp. 32-34.