A RARE LARGE GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF AVALOKITESHVARA MARK AND PERIOD OF XUANDE
- 26 cm., 10 1/4 in.
Avalokiteshvara is the most popular of all the bodhisattvas, appearing in myriad forms with numerous epithets: The Compassionate One, Lord Who Gazes Down, Lord of the World, Lotus Bearer. The compassion of the bodhisattva is expressed in the subtle hand gestures of this majestic Xuande sculpture, the mudras signifying the bestowal of charity and reassurance.
A very similar Xuande statue of Avalokiteshvara is now in the Potala palace, Lhasa, Ulrich von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Hong Kong, 2001, vol. II, pl. 359C, one of only three Xuande bronzes to have been found in von Schroeder's extensive survey of Tibetan monastery collections; and this in contrast to some fifty-four Yongle bronzes emphasises the relative rarity of Xuande sculpture. These numbers seem to corroborate the official Chinese accounts of the period that make no mention of the bestowal of images on Tibetan hierarchs during the Xuande, as happened so frequently in the Yongle period. Notwithstanding the reduced patronage, the quality and splendour of Xuande Buddhist images attest to an artistic continuum. The close similarities between Yongle and Xuande bronzes can be seen in the comparison of this Xuande Avalokiteshvara with a Yongle Manjughosha, also in the Potala, ibid, 359B, where necklace, crown and earring design and a loose fitting clothing style are virtually identical. The broad petal design of the lotus pedestals is similar in each statue. Xuande bronzes have close stylistic similarities to Yongle sculptures but often a notable difference in appearance, as Xuande works are larger than the majority of Yongle bronzes. The slim elongated lotus petals of the pedestals of Yongle works such as the Chintamanichakra Avalokiteshvara in this collection, lot 2143, are seen only on these smaller Yongle works, on average nineteen to twenty-two centimetres high; a more intimate scale for a gift from the emperor. Images of this smaller size do not occur in the Xuande period where the main body of Xuande works are on average twenty-five to twenty-seven centimetres high, or larger. Thus, the vast majority of Yongle works have a more delicate appearance, being on a much smaller scale than Xuande sculpture, while larger scale Yongle works are sometimes stylistically indistinguishable from their Xuande counterparts. These larger images from both periods are likely to have been made for temple worship rather than personal meditation practise.
With the scale of this fine and rare Xuande Avalokiteshvara comes a majestic bearing and countenance, emphasised by the regal and elegant posture. The sculpture is notable for its rich and subtle colour with just the minimum of wear to the gilding from gentle handling over the centuries, leaving the surface in almost pristine condition. The figure is consecrated and the sealing plate beneath remains undisturbed. The copper alloy plate that secures the consecration material retains the designated red painted surface, and is engraved with a visvavajra representing an unshakeable foundation.