Marble slab depicting Buddha and dating from 6th century sells for £554,000

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Marble slab depicting Buddha and dating from 6th century sells for £554,000

A marble slab found propped up against a fireplace in a country cottage has sold for a staggering £554,000 - after it turned out to be an ancient reli

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A marble slab found propped up against a fireplace in a country cottage has sold for a staggering £554,000 – after it turned out to be an ancient relic.

The stele – an engraved stone or marble carving – stood for decades in the living room of the woman vendor’s humble home in south west England.

She had no idea how valuable it was until an auctioneer who was invited along to look at a number of objects spotted it on the floor next to a woodburner.

The stele weighs about 14stone and is 39ins high by 15ins wide.

It shows Buddha – the founder of Budishm – standing on a lotus throne and dates from the Northern Qi dynasty who ruled the eastern part of northern China from 550 to 577AD.

It was once in the collection of Adolphe Stoclet, a Belgian engineer who commissioned the famous Stoclet Palace in Brussels in 1907.

A marble slab found propped up against a fireplace in a country cottage has sold for a staggering £554,000 - after it turned out to be an ancient relic. The stele - an engraved stone or marble carving - stood for decades in the living room of the woman vendor's humble home in south west England

A marble slab found propped up against a fireplace in a country cottage has sold for a staggering £554,000 - after it turned out to be an ancient relic. The stele - an engraved stone or marble carving - stood for decades in the living room of the woman vendor's humble home in south west England

A marble slab found propped up against a fireplace in a country cottage has sold for a staggering £554,000 – after it turned out to be an ancient relic. The stele – an engraved stone or marble carving – stood for decades in the living room of the woman vendor’s humble home in south west England

The stele, which had not been seen on the open market in almost a century, sparked a bidding war at auctioneers Woolley & Wallis, of Salisbury, Wiltshire.

At least nine bidders on the phone and collectors in the room drove the price up.

There was a round of applause when the hammer came down at £440,000.

With extra fees included, the Chinese telephone buyer paid £554,400 – almost nine times the £60,000 pre-sale estimate.

It is the latest example of Oriental collectors seeking to reclaim their lost heritage, leading to soaring prices for rare relics.

The vendor, who was watching online, was ‘absolutely delighted’ with the sale result.

The stele, which had not been seen on the open market in almost a century, sparked a bidding war at auctioneers Woolley & Wallis, of Salisbury, Wiltshire

The stele, which had not been seen on the open market in almost a century, sparked a bidding war at auctioneers Woolley & Wallis, of Salisbury, Wiltshire

The stele, which had not been seen on the open market in almost a century, sparked a bidding war at auctioneers Woolley & Wallis, of Salisbury, Wiltshire

The vendor, who was watching online, was 'absolutely delighted' with the sale result

The vendor, who was watching online, was 'absolutely delighted' with the sale result

The vendor, who was watching online, was ‘absolutely delighted’ with the sale result

John Axford, head of Asian art at Woolley & Wallis, said: ‘This is an exceptional price for an exceptional object, reflecting not only its rarity but also the significance of its provenance.

‘It was a stand-out object from a collection of other highly important pieces and was hotly contested by keen bidders.

‘The owner was watching online and is absolutely delighted with the result.’

Of the carving, he added: ‘This substantial carving dates from the Northern Qi dynasty and would have sat in pride of place as a venerated object.

In 1913 the stele was exhibited in Paris at the Musée Cernuschi as part of an exhibition of Buddhistic art

In 1913 the stele was exhibited in Paris at the Musée Cernuschi as part of an exhibition of Buddhistic art

In 1913 the stele was exhibited in Paris at the Musée Cernuschi as part of an exhibition of Buddhistic art

‘It is beautifully carved with a figure of Buddha flanked by two bodhisattva and has stayed remarkably crisp despite its age.

‘It has clearly been well cared for all its life.’

In 1913 the stele was exhibited in Paris at the Musée Cernuschi as part of an exhibition of Buddhistic art.

It is also illustrated in the 1956 catalogue of Adolphe Stoclet’s collection, which was published in Brussels seven years after his death.

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