Lot 39
  • 39

Importante statuette de Vairocana en bronze doré Dynastie Ming, XVE siècle

300,000 - 500,000 EUR
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  • Bronze
assis en vajrasana sur une double base lotiforme, les mains jointes devant sa poitrine en abhisekana mudra, vêtu d'un fin dhoti aux plis harmonieux formant un éventail entre ses jambes et laissant l'épaule droite découverte, le visage serein aux paupières baissées encadré d'imposantes boucles d'oreille pendues à ses longs lobes, le front agrémenté de l'urna ceint d'une riche couronne ouvragée à cinq pointes tenant par un ruban noué derrière sa tête, entourant son haut chignon surmonté de l'ushnisha, non scellé


Swiss Collection (by repute).
Koller Zuerich, 11th November 1988, lot 1A.


The figure is in overall very good condition. There is a ca. 1.5cm long diagonal dent and a ca. 0.5cm long dent to the figure's upper right hand shoulder (visible in the catalogue and cover illustration) and two ca. 1cm wide shallow dents just above near the neck (also just visible in the catalogue illustration and cover). There is light overall wear to the rich gilding and some minor scratching. There is also a ca. 2.5cm long casting flaw to the rim of the base on the back of the figure and a ca. 2.5x0.5 cm large casting flaw to the rim of the base on the figure's right side. There is a tiny ca. 0.2x0.2cm large hole to the figure's left foot. There are traces of blue pigment to the hair and red pigment to the interior of the figure. The figure is heavily cast and covered with a rich golden gilding that is suffused with tiny bubbles.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This rare and imposing gilt bronze figure depicts the supreme Buddha Vairocana embodying the seminal Indian Vajrayana Buddhist text ‘Mahavairocana Abhisambhodi Tantra’. The sutra, possibly composed in the great university of Nalanda in the province of Bihar, was transmitted to China in the eighth century by the Indian monk Subhakarasimha. The Adi Buddha is adorned with regal crown and earrings befitting his stature as a primordial enlightened being, but wears the simple robes of a monk denoting humility and compassion. The hands, locked together in a bodhyagri mudra, express the concept of ultimate reality and wisdom. The face is a study of composure and intensity, imbuing the statue with a commanding presence. Indeed the deeply cut narrowed eyes, full mouth and broad features indicate the early Ming dynasty provenance of the bronze comparable to numerous mid-fifteenth century Chinese Buddhist sculptures, most notably a crowned Buddha of similar size in the Newark Museum, published in Marylin M. Rhie and Robert A. F. Thurman, The Sacred Art of Tibet, London, 1991, p. 356, cat. no. 146.

The crown is of typical fifteenth century design with the patterned fillet decorated with a triple jewel setting at the centre in the classic early Ming format of square-cut gem flanked by two pear-cut, and with the five leaf jewelled diadem following the design seen on Yongle and Xuande examples, cf. the crowns of the Speelman pair of Xuande dancing bodhisattvas, sold Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 7th October 2006, lot 805. The fall of cloth is well observed in the Buddha’s robe, taught over the knees and shoulder but hanging in loose folds across the chest, lower leg and ankle, and spreading out over the upper surface of the pedestal, as in many works of the period. But the singular defining feature that places the sculpture firmly in the fifteenth century, and relating the robe to the Yongle period origins of the style, is the way the cloth forms a broad flattened fold falling from the proper left shoulder. This distinctive feature is common on early Ming works such as the Speelman Yongle enthroned Buddha, ibid., lot 808, but does not occur later in the dynasty.

The imperial bronzes of the Yongle and Xuande period thus clearly influenced the artist who created this large and important sculpture, and continued to impact on sculpture of the Zhengtong (1436-1449) and Jingtai (1450-1457) periods. However, Chenghua (1464-1487) Buddhist sculpture tends to be mannered in comparison. Given the evident confidence of the sculptor of this crowned Vairocana Buddha, and his inherent knowledge of the classic early Ming motifs and sculptural proportion, it may be assumed that it dates to no later than the mid-fifteenth century. The well-documented bestowal of gilt bronzes upon Tibetan hierarchs during the Yongle reign was significantly reduced during the Xuande period and hardly recorded thereafter. This majestic image of Vairocana is thus likely to have been a commission for a local Chinese temple setting during the Zhengtong or Jingtai period, rather than destined for a Tibetan monastery collection.