A SUPERB GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF A SEATED SHAKYAMUNI BUDDHA MARK AND PERIOD OF YONGLE
- 21.2 cm., 8 3/8 in.
The historical Buddha Shakyamuni is envisaged in this statue seated at the empowered site of vajrasana at Bodh Gaya in eastern India, having vowed to remain in meditation to penetrate the mystery of samsara. He was interrupted by the demon hordes of Mara, the "lord of the senses". The Buddha overcame their attempts at seduction and distraction, and in defiance moved his right hand from the meditation position to touch the ground before him. The gesture, bhumishparsha mudra, signifies the moment of triumph over Mara in calling the earth spirit to witness his claim to enlightenment.
This classic iconography of Shakyamuni Buddha is famously represented in two complete imperial Yongle altar shrines, one in the British Museum, W. Zwalf, ed, Buddhism: Art and Faith, London, 1985, cat. 305, and the other from the Speelman Collection, Sotheby's Hong Kong, 7th October 2006, lot 808. Yongle images of Shakyamuni Buddha in this smaller scale are relatively rare. Only one was recorded in Ulrich von Schroeder's survey of Tibetan monastery collections, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Hong Kong, 2001, vol. II, pl. 358A: another, with the reign mark erased, is now in a private collection, Ulrich von Schroeder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, Hong Kong 1981, 146D.
The statue is defined by an idiosyncratic sculptural manner within the Yongle stylistic parameters, and superb colour and condition. Just the merest of wear to the gilding suggests gentle and respectful handling over the centuries. The chest is rounded and the shoulders slope, more so than in the majority of Yongle images where they are set more square. This and the charming rounded face with bow-shaped lips are strongly suggestive of Nepalese sculptural traditions. However the elegant lotus petal pedestal is typical of the entire group, and in keeping with the statue's excellent overall condition it retains the consecration plate beneath engraved with the designated visvavajra.