326
326
A GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF A GUARDIAN
DALI KINGDOM, 10TH - 12TH CENTURY
Estimate
200,000300,000
JUMP TO LOT
326
A GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF A GUARDIAN
DALI KINGDOM, 10TH - 12TH CENTURY
Estimate
200,000300,000
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Bodies of Infinite Light Featuring an Important Collection of Buddhist Figures Formerly in the Collection of the Chang Foundation

|
New York

A GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF A GUARDIAN
DALI KINGDOM, 10TH - 12TH CENTURY
the warrior on one knee, the extended proper right hand brandishing a sword whilst the left hand wields a circular shield cast in relief with eight blossoms, outfitted with a rounded helmet topped by a spiraled finial, the domed helmet with a fish scale pattern above the aventail spreading in neat rows of lappets behind the head and neck, the elaborate armor modeled after the characteristic leather and lacquer kits of the Dali Kingdom, comprising a breastplate with two rosette roundels and a network of knotted leather straps forming the protective skirt, a ribbon-tied sash secured at the waist and at the tops of the pebbled boots, a celestial sash draped over the back and billowing from the shoulders, the scabbard slung from the belt at the left hip

Please note the dating of this lot is consistent with its Oxford Authentication Ltd. Thermoluminescence test result, no. C119b63.


Height 6 in., 15.3 cm
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Catalogue Note

This remarkable figure is cast in a highly dramatic pose, solemnly raising one knee as if ready to rise while energetically brandishing his sword. His stern facial expression complements the dynamic pose, and the figure is shown wearing heavy armor and a helmet, while a scarf draped around the shoulders flutters around the arms. Dali gilt-bronze figures of kneeling guardians or warriors are extremely rare, and no other closely related example appears to be known.

This figure can be attributed to the Dali Kingdom (937-1253) on account of similarities with two sculptures of seated guardians: a gilt-bronze figure in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (fig. 1), and a wooden example in the Yunnan Provincial Museum. Both figures are depicted in vigorous postures and dressed in armor with rosettes on the breastplates, with the sleeves gathered above the elbows. Furthermore, the metal body of the two seated figures displays a similar orange-brown tone. Metallurgical analyses carried out on bronze figures from the Dali Kingdom by Paul Jett, Senior Conservator in the Freer Gallery and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institutions, Washington D.C., have revealed significant traces of arsenic, which gives the metal its characteristic color (Paul Jett, ‘Technologische Studie zu den vergoldeten Guanyin-Figuren aus dem Dali-Königreich’, Der Goldschatz der drei Pagoden, Zurich, 1991, pp 68-74).

The Nanzhao (653-902) and Dali Kingdoms controlled the frontier area of Yunnan, almost independently from the Tang and Song dynasties that ruled over the rest of China. Founded by the Bai ethnic minority, the two monarchies adopted Buddhism as a means to unify their kingdoms and legitimize their ascent to power. Both kingdoms had long-lasting interactions with China as well as the peripheral Southeast Asian and Himalayan cultures, and were highly receptive to foreign ideas and art. Buddhist sculpture from Yunnan is distinctively eclectic, and differs significantly from the sculptural styles prevalent in the regions under Tang and Song administrations. 

Tibet and other Indianized cultures were particularly influential in the spread of Buddhism in Yunnan. Esoteric Buddhism shared similarities with Shamanistic beliefs and the local Bai rulers were thus favorably disposed towards it. This is particularly evident in the role of foreign Buddhist monks, known as Azhali, who transmitted Buddhist teachings and provided spiritual guidance to devotees, but were also valued in Yunnan for their supernatural powers. Buddhism was fervently adopted by both the Nanzhao and Dali rulers, and from the 8th century onward, relations with Tibet were strengthened through the administration of the Shilang principality in the area around Jianchuan, which paid allegiance to Tibet. The influence of Esoteric Buddhist teachings and images on the sculptures of Yunnan is displayed in this figure through its dramatic pose, slightly protruding eyes, bushy eyebrows and short beard.

The iconography of this piece is unusual; while it probably depicts a lokapala or a dvarapala, terrifying figures meant to protect devotees in sacred spaces, these are seldom depicted kneeling and carrying a shield. Lokapala, also known as the Four Heavenly Kings, were believed to guard the four corners of Mount Sumeru, while dvarapala were honored as fearsome armed warriors that protected doors and entry ways. Figures of guardians with sword are typically identified with Dhritarashtra, the Guardian of the East, although he is more commonly depicted seated or standing, and wearing a helmet with upturned ends.

Please note the dating of this lot is consistent with its Oxford Authentication Ltd. Thermoluminescence test result, no. C119b63.

Bodies of Infinite Light Featuring an Important Collection of Buddhist Figures Formerly in the Collection of the Chang Foundation

|
New York