The subtle roundness of the face, arms and torso of this figure as well as its elegantly moving posture are characteristic of bronze images commissioned by the Qianlong court for furnishing the imperial palaces and the several shrines that were built during his reign. Stylistically these figures stem from a long tradition of casting Buddhist sculptures following Indian and Nepalese prototypes made from the 11th to the 12th century. This was the style that prevailed at the Mongol Yuan court, which had close ties to Tibet, and continued through the early Ming dynasty and the Qing period.
This figure appears to depict Ushnishavijaya, a female divinity that is the personification of ushnisa, the Buddha’s cranial protuberance. Ushnishavijaya was known in China from the 7th century AD, and it is believed that devotion to this deity was introduced by the Indian monk Buddhapali. Ushnishavijaya is depicted with three heads and eight arms, which are meant to hold a Buddha image, a Vajra, an arrow, a lasso, a bow and a vase with the nectar of immortality.
A similar figure of Ushnishavijaya, attributed to the 17th century, was sold in these rooms, 26th March 1996, lot 5; a slightly larger example from the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad, was included in the exhibition Wisdom and Compassion. The Sacred Art of Tibet, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, 1991, cat. no. 124; and a much larger example, dressed in a robe decorated with an inlaid floral motif, still housed at the Summer Palace of Chengde, was included in the exhibition Buddhist Art from Rehol. Tibetan Buddhist Images and Ritual Objects from the Qing Dynasty Summer Palace at Chengde, The Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1999, cat. no. 26. A slightly smaller figure of Ushnishavijaya similarly seated cross-legged but with a flaming mandorla, was included in the exhibition Wisdom Embodied. Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2010, cat. no. 44. Compare also a Tibetan bronze sculpture of this deity, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Buddhist Statues of Tibet, Hong Kong 2003, pl. 187.