Chinese Works of Art

Discoveries: A Tale of Two Chinese Bronze Figures

By Mark Stephen

T hese two Chinese gilt bronze figures were consigned via routine enquiries to the Sotheby’s online request an estimate service. They went on to be sold in the 2017 Important Chinese Art sale.

They had come down through the family of the consignor from Ernest Hamilton Sharp OBE (1861-1922), King’s Counsel for the Colony of Hong Kong. Apart from a provenance to the early 20th Century, to a man who would have had both the wealth and connections to buy good pieces, the unusual thing about the Buddha is the fact it is signed by the maker.  

The figures were inscribed ‘Made by Chen Yanqing, from Qiantang’: it is a signature known on three other early bronze figures, one of which is in the Art Institute of Chicago, and another the Metropolitan Museum of New York.  

The bronze was notable for its exquisite quality of casting and fine gilding with just light wear. The Buddha was beautifully serene with a timeless quality.
How incredible to think that it was around 600 years old. 

The second bronze from the same source was from the Qing dynasty, some 300 years later. It depicts Palden Lhamo (Glorious Goddess), the Tibetan form of the ancient Indian goddess Shridevi.

Palden Lhamo rides a mule whose haunch is marked with an eye, an iconographic element associated with an early myth surrounding Shridevi. Once, while queen of Sri Lanka, Shridevi strenuously objected to her husband's practice of human sacrifice and threatened to kill their son if her husband's barbarism did not cease. 

When human sacrifice continued, she carried out her promise. As the goddess mounted a mule (covered with the flayed skin of her son) to flee the kingdom, the king aimed an arrow in her direction, hitting the mule's haunch. Shridevi removed the arrow and magically transformed the wound into an eye, thus augmenting her powers to see and watch over the realms of the Buddhist faith.

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