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Head of a Luohan

Sculpture of Asian man’s head, he is bald with detailed angular facial features.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • Sculpture of Asian man’s head, he is bald with detailed angular facial features.


Northern Song, Liao, or Jin dynasty, c. 11th century



About this artwork

In traditional Buddhist belief, the luohan is a disciple who has attained enlightenment through intense personal effort. Beginning in the ninth century, the worship of luohan and their depiction in art evolved primarily in the context of the Chan (Zen), or “meditation,” sect of Buddhism. This head was created in the delicate technique of hollow dry lacquer. The artisan first soaked layers of coarse cloth in lacquer (a thick sap tapped from a sumac tree) and applied these to a clay core formed over an armature of wood or other material. After allowing the work to dry, he applied a thick layer of lacquer paste to create the basic shape of the sculpture and a thinner coat into which he carefully modeled the eyes, high cheekbones, and other facial features. After removing the core and supporting armature, he set colored beads behind the eyes to represent irises and pupils. Finally, he painted the surface and perhaps applied gilding. Although these surface finishes have disintegrated over the centuries, the sensitively executed facial features preserve the insightful expression of the luohan.


On View, Gallery 101A


Arts of Asia


Head of a Luohan


China (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Hollow dry lacquer


28.6 × 18 × 20 cm (11 1/4 × 7 1/16 × 7 7/8 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of the Orientals

Reference Number


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Extended information about this artwork

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