Lot 2146
  • 2146

A RARE GILT-BRONZE SEATED FIGURE OF AVALOKITESHVARA MARK AND PERIOD OF YONGLE

Estimate
3,500,000 - 4,500,000 HKD
Sold
5,420,000 HKD
bidding is closed

Description

  • 21.5 cm., 8 1/2 in.
holding an amrita bottle in the right hand and stems of lotus in both, the flowers blossoming at the shoulders, the face with painted details and a downward gaze, the brow marked with an urna, his blue painted hair drawn up in a knotted jatamakuta securing a miniature effigy of Amitabha, with long tresses falling to the shoulders, wearing bodhisattva jewellery including a crown framing the forehead and tied with billowing sashes at the ears, circular studded earrings, beaded necklaces, bracelets and armbands, with anklets and foot adornments, a scarf around the bare shoulders flowing over the arms, a voluminous lower garment gathered at the waist and fastened by a beaded girdle, the cloth spreading onto the lotus pedestal engraved on its upper surface with a Yongle reign mark, the bodhisattva seated in lalitasana with the right foot supported by a lotus flower

Catalogue Note

The popularity of Avalokiteshvara in early Ming China is evident from the numerous Yongle and Xuande sculptures representing different forms of the deity. There are three different guises of the bodhisattva in this collection alone. In this delightful Yongle bronze he is depicted in a form that has been popular in China from at least the Tang dynasty, where in sculpture and painting he is shown holding the elixir bottle and lotus, W. Zwalf, ed, Buddhism: Art and Faith, London, 1985, cat. 291. A Five Dynasties painting, and a Five Dynasties woodblock print dated 947 are both inscribed with similar verse in praise of the Great Merciful, Great Compassionate Saviour from Hardship, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, ibid, cat. nos. 317, 330. Both depict the bodhisattva with a bottle and lotus flower, and Roderick Whitfield identifies the vessel as a medicine bottle. A further Five Dynasties woodblock print shows the bodhisattva with the bottle and a willow branch, both symbols of healing, ibid, cat. 334. The manifestation of the bodhisattva depicted in the Yongle bronze is thus traditionally popular in China, and the association with medicine may suggest a cult relating to health and well being amongst devotees.

Although the style of the bronze is much influenced by Himalayan sculptural traditions, this form of Avalokiteshvara is not popular in Tibet: which seems to highlight a traditionalism in those responsible for the court's iconographic program, independent of Tibetan customs. This and indeed all the different Yongle and Xuande forms of the bodhisattva are modelled in the 'Indian' manner as a male deity, as opposed to the sinicized female aspect. This preference may be intended to reflect the form and gender of the deity as originally introduced into China from India, which would also be more in keeping for Tibetan Buddhists who were often the recipients of such sculptures. At least three other Yongle examples of this iconography remain, including one in the Potala Collection, Lhasa: Ulrich von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Hong Kong, 2001, 355A. Another from the Berti Aschmann Collection is now in the Rietberg Museum: Helmut Uhlig, On the Path to Enlightenment, Zürich, 1995, cat. 52. And another is in Collection J. P. H. Y., Belgium: Jan van Alphen, Cast for Eternity, Antwerp, 2004, cat. 78.

In this evidently popular manifestation of Avalokiteshvara the accessible nature of the bodhisattva is reflected in the open and relaxed posture and the charitable gesture of the right hand: painted eyes and lips enhance the compassionate downward gaze. An eye to quality and condition informs all the bronzes in this collection and this elegant example is no exception. Just the slightest wear to the gilding suggests respectful and gentle handling over the centuries.

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