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Details & Cataloguing

The Heart of Tantra – Buddhist Art Including Property from the Nyingjei Lam Collection

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Hong Kong

A SUPERBLY CAST GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF AVALOKITESHVARA
MING DYNASTY, XUANDE PERIOD
seated in rajalilasana with the right arm rested on the raised right leg, wearing an ornate dhoti tied with a bejewelled belt with radiating tassels, falling into a voluminous hem heavily embellished with bands of florets and foliate scrolls, the chest similarly adorned with beaded necklaces, draped around the shoulders and arms with a goat pelt falling into heavy swags on the reverse, the face with a benevolent expression detailed with downcast eyes and a benign smile, crowned by a five-leaf diadem before a high chignon set with a seated figure of Amitabha Buddha, stand
26 cm, 10 1/4  in.
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Provenance

Collection of Colonel Robert Coleman Hall Brock (1861-1909) and Alice Gibson (1861-1925), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Collection of Henry Gibson Brock (1886-1940) and Margaret Cust Burgwin (1926-1961), Muncy, Pennsylvania, and thence by family descent.
Christie's New York, 18th/19th September 2014, lot 1025.

Catalogue Note

This finely cast sculpture of Avalokiteshvara embodies the sophisticated nuances of expression in the Buddhist imagery created in the workshops of the early Ming court. The figure radiates compassion with his downward gaze and gentle smile - the essential quality of the bodhisattva. Avalokitesvara, known as the 'infinitely compassionate being' and 'protector of the world' is the subject of the twenty-fifth chapter of the Lotus Sutra, in which he attempts to save all beings from the suffering of the world. The image of the now fragmentary Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, in the fragile headdress of this exquisite sculpture enables a clear attribution.

Tibetan iconography and artistic traditions, partly derived from the rich legacy of Newari craftsmen, had a significant influence on Chinese Buddhist art of the Yuan dynasty, and even more so at the courts of the Yongle and Xuande emperors. This influence manifests itself in a departure from the more rigid sinicised style to greater movement in the body, with S-curved posture, refined gestures and decoration of the body in opulent jewellery, as seen here.

Earlier Tibetan representations of Avalokiteshvara in relaxed ‘royal ease’ posture are rare, but a Central Tibetan fourteenth century bronze figure in the Royal Ontario Museum may be a possible prototype. Illustrated on Himalayan Art Resources, item no. 77540, it displays the same posture of royal ease, but is less lavishly decorated than the current figure, without such opulent jewellery.

The current figure can be attributed to the Xuande period due to its distinct stylistic similarities to Xuande reign-marked figures, including the figure of a kneeling Bodhisattva in the Berti Aschmann Foundation at the Rietberg Museum, illustrated in Helmut Uhlig, On the Path to Enlightenment, The Berti Aschmann Foundation of Tibetan Art at the Museum Rietberg Zurich, Zurich, 1995, no. 72. Both figures share the same distinct facial expression, with similar pronounced mastery of movement and lavish treatment of the crown, jewellery and robes. See also the similarities on a Xuande reign-marked gilt-bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara in the Victoria & Albert Museum, illustrated in the exhibition catalogue Ming: Fifty Years that Changed China, the British Museum, London, 2014, fig. 203.

Similar depictions of elaborate festoons of jewelled chains can be found on other gilt-bronze images of Guanyin dated to the late Yuan-early Ming period, such as the figure from the Oppenheim Collection, now in the British Museum, illustrated by Wladimir Zwalf, ed., Buddhism: Art and Faith, London, 1985, no. 298. Compare also the similar treatment of the jewellery on a Yongle reign-marked gilt-bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara, sold in our London rooms, 7th November 2007, lot 362.

The Heart of Tantra – Buddhist Art Including Property from the Nyingjei Lam Collection

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Hong Kong