Head of Luohan

Object nr. 656 China, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Height: 32 cm

Private Collection, United Kingdom 2019

Condition Report available

Price on request

This object can be viewed in our gallery.

Additional Information


A large stucco head of a Luohan, his elongated earlobes identifying him as a heavenly figure. His features are very realistic, with furrowed brow, raised eyebrows and wrinkling around the eyes. The eyes are inlaid with black glass, for added depth of expression. His bald head, in combination with his wise and benevolent expression, indicate this is a Buddhist Luohan.

Luohan – or Arhat in sanskrit- are the personal disciples of Buddha. Having attained enlightenment, they were free of the cycle of reincarnation to act as protectors of Buddhism. In Mahayana Buddhism, they are seen as sages with supernatural powers and revered as minor deities. They are mostly depicted as elderly monks with shaved heads. Each has its own characteristics and can often be recognized by their attributes, much like Christian disciples. Luohans were often represented in groups of 16 or 18, usually placed in rows flanking either side of the main hall of the temple.

The early Ming period saw a growth of prosperity, which ignited a huge increase of temple building and consequently also the production statuary for within. Stucco was an ideal material to produce large scale statuary quickly and with less expense. The material was also easily accessible and its malleability was ideal for making complex and expressive Buddhist figures. The stucco mix comprised locally sourced clay, mixed with other organic matter such as cotton wool and paper fibres. The mixture was applied to the entire surface of a wooden or iron frame forming the basic shape the statue. The clay surface was then fully coated with hemp fibres before neatly plastered over with a layer of fine clay. Finally, the bodily features and garments of the statue are painted with mineral pigments of different colours.

Good comparable heads from the same period can be seen on the Arhats are in the Shuanling Monastery, Pingyao. Compare also the style and expression on the Luohan in the Tsz Shan Monastery Buddhist Art Museum, Hong Kong (acc.nr. 2017.15).

Floris van der Ven