The deeply carved drapery and the heavy ornamentation, coupled with the preserved pigments, hint at the original sumptuousness and overwhelming visual effect that awaited temple visitors. They would have encountered this image in an elaborate stage set with painted murals covering the walls, along with many other sculptures of deities and arhats, all brightly coloured and gilded.
The finest sculptures of this period were carved of wood, covered with gesso, painted with bright pigments, inset with jewels, and gilded to create elegantly animated, richly adorned figures. Demand for large images such as the present piece led to the development of construction methods involving multiple blocks of wood, assembled after carving with bamboo or wood pins. Many temples from the Buddhist temples of the 11th to 13th centuries survive intact, testimony to the glorious integration of architecture, painting, and sculpture that characterises Buddhist temple art; see a figure of the Bodhisattva Manjusri riding a lion in a similar pose and dress, from the Upper Guangsheng Temple in Zhaochjeng country, Shanxi, datable to c.1150, illustrated in Alexander Soper, The Art and Architecture of China, London, 1968, pl. 77.
Compare closely related seated figures of Avalokiteshvara of slightly smaller size; such as an example in the Avery Brundage collection, illustrated in Rene-Yvon d'Argence (ed.), Chinese, Korean and Japanese Sculpture in the Avery Brundage Collection, San Francisco, 1974, pl. 145; and another, formerly in the Arthur M. Sackler collection, New York, sold at Christie's New York, 1st December 1994, lot 169. Carvings of Avalokiteshvara of this type in various seated and standing positions and clothed in drapery that reveals the chest are known; see a seated figure in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, published in Alan Priest, Chinese Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1944, pl. CXI; another example in the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, illustrated in Hai-wai yi-zhen. Chinese Art in Overseas Collections. Buddhist Sculpture (II), Taipei, 1990, pl. 144, together with a standing example, sold in our New York rooms, 6th November 1981, lot 50, and now also in the Cleveland Museum of Art, pl. 146; and a seated figure in the Cincinnati Art Museum, included in Ellen B. Avril, Chinese Art in the Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, 1997, pl. 23.
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