A RARE GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF MARICHI MARK AND PERIOD OF YONGLE
- 15 cm., 5 7/8 in.
Marichi, the goddess of light, holds the promise of dawn from dark night. As with her Hindu counterpart Surya, her arsenal includes a bow and an arrow that is fired to dispel darkness. Her attributes include a needle and thread, held here in her uppermost hands, symbolising the union of method and wisdom in Buddhist philosophy, and used to sew up the eyelids and mouths of evil spirits and bind their limbs. The Ashoka branch that she holds before her is the emblem of the goddess Khadiravani Tara and confirms Marichi's role, together with Ekajata, as attendant to the "Tara of the Acacia Forest". The vajra sceptre symbolises the diamond path to Buddhist enlightenment and the elephant goad alludes to the power of the goddess to steer a practitioner on the path. The tang below the lotus would have probably located into the back of a caparisoned sow, her familiar vehicle, in the manner of another Yongle Marichi with very similar iconography now in the Potala Palace Collection, Lhasa; Ulrich von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Hong Kong, 2001, vol. II, pl. 357B.
Although the style of this bronze is Tibeto-Chinese Marichi is rarely portrayed in Tibetan art. However, she is quite commonly represented in Chinese sculpture and painting, confirming her considerable popularity in China. Here her cult was known from at least the eighth century when The Divine Being Marichi Sutra was translated into Chinese, see Marsha Weidner, ed, Latter Days of the Law, Kansas, 1994, p. 410. The Northern Song (960-1127) imperial collection is said to have included paintings of the goddess by such masters as Lu Tanwei, Zhang Sengyou, Lu Lengjia and Cao Chongxuan. The three-faced and eight-armed iconography depicted in this Yongle gilt bronze is described in the Marichi Bodhisattva Sutra translated during the Song Dynasty. Albeit in different iconographic guises the goddess is still well represented in Chinese sculpture and painting through the eighteenth century, affirming her enduring popularity. Marichi is regarded as wealth bestowing and as a personal protector, some saying that she gains advantage over evil forces by being hard to spot as she appears out of the sun. The Divine Being Marichi Sutra promotes Marichi's powers of protection while travelling, and from robbers, fire, flood, armies, ghosts, poison, wild animals, and poisonous insects.
This rare and exquisite little bronze highlights the particular choices made in the iconographical program of the Yongle court in the production of works in this Tibeto-Chinese style. The vast Tibetan Vajrayana pantheon is distilled into a select group of deities that include those already familiar to Chinese culture such as Marichi, as well as more unfamiliar deities such as the Yidams that were important to the Tibetan hierarchs who had influence at court. This statue combines the very best qualities of the court artists with such delightful sculptural finesse and idiosyncratic expression, each face a study in compassion, gentleness or wrath, and all enhanced by a rich and mellow gilding with the finest of patinas.