Lot 329
  • 329


1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Height 22 in., 55.9 cm
the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara with his principal hands held together before his chest in anjali mudra, his secondary hands at shoulder level, once holding mala and padma, with the padma stem remaining in the proper left hand, the deity in union with his consort with her arms reaching over the shoulders of the bodhisattva and holding a kartrika in her right hand, a kapala now missing from her left, both deities wearing elaborate bodhisattva jewelery and heavily patterned robes, and seated on a waisted lotus pedestal bordered with bands of rounded pearls, a circular plug on the underside sealing an undisturbed chamber (2) HAR item no. 64935


American Private Collection (by repute).
Collection of Stuart Perrin (b. 1942).
Arnold Lieberman, New York, until 1981.
Collection of Jeffrey Novick, until 1983.
Collection of Douglas Rosestone, until 1996.
Collection of Dr. Bruce Gordon, until 2004.
American Private Collection.
Sotheby's New York, 16th September 2008, lot 173.


Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, 2006-2008 (on loan).

Catalogue Note

The iconography of this rare Chinese gilt-wood sculpture of Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara (Tib. chen re zi gyal wa gya tso) is drawn from the Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist pantheon and represents an emanation of the popular bodhisattva as a meditational deity in union with his consort. According to Tibetan Buddhist practice the hollow interior of the statue is filled with consecratory material, as revealed by X-ray photography (fig. 1). Comparison of the statue’s sculptural detail with the renowned Buddhist gilt-bronzes of the early Ming dynasty allows a fifteenth century date to be determined with some accuracy. A large Xuande mark and period gilt-bronze Amitayus, sold in these rooms 25th March, 1999, lot 121 (fig. 2), has remarkably similar stylistic detail to the gilded wood figure. Compare the identical bracelet and upper arm band design composed of multiple beaded bands supporting jeweled elements: the long necklace consisting of a double row of tightly strung beads on either side of a single strand of larger and more widely spaced jewels; the full face and narrowed eyes; crown jewelry and the consort’s earring design; the tight hair curls on the forehead below the crown band, and locks of hair falling to the shoulders in thick curling tresses. The specific style and composition of the pedestal corresponds to the Xuande Amitayus with its plain raised foot beneath a recessed band of beading, an elaborate flourish on the tips of broad lotus petals with further tendrils at the sides, and the prominent row of beading along the upper edge. This distinct pedestal design appears in both the Yongle and Xuande periods on larger scale sculptures only: compare the pedestal design of the 136 cm high Yongle mark and period standing bodhisattva in Musée Cernuschi, Ming: 50 Years that Changed China, The British Museum, London, 2014, fig. 205, and the approximately 250 cm high Yongle or Xuande period Ekavira Vajrabhairava in the Yonghe Gong, Beijing, David Weldon, 'A Vajrabhairava Statue in the Yonghe Gong, Beijing,' Orientations, January/February 2019, pp 132-7. The raised textile designs of the robes are closely comparable to those on a number of Yongle mark and period gilt-bronzes depicting both male and female figures, for example a Shyama Tara in Museum Rietberg, Helmut Uhlig, On the Path to Enlightenment, Zurich, 1995, cat. no. 92; an Avalokiteshvara in The Chang Foundation, Jintongfo zaoxiang tulu/Buddhist Images in Gilt Metal, Taipei, 1993, pl. 31; a Virupa in the Cleveland Museum of Art, Heather Karmay, Early Sino-Tibetan Art, Warminster, 1975, pl. 63. The Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara thus displays stylistic characteristics seen in both Yongle and Xuande period sculpture. Although a variant of the arm jewelery and necklace design is seen on a Yongle period gilt-bronze Avalokiteshvara in a private collection, Amy Heller, Tibetan Art, Milan, 1999, pl. 90, the identical bracelet and arm band designs and the compelling physiognomic similarities of the Xuande gilt bronze Amitayus would suggest that the gilded wood statue is perhaps more likely to date to the Xuande period.

This rarely portrayed iconographic subject is further represented in a small Yongle mark and period gilt-bronze formerly on loan to the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam, Jan Van Alphen, Cast for Eternity, Antwerp, 2004, cat. no. 76, HAR item 24524 (fig 3). The Yongle gilt-bronze and the present gilded wood example appear to be the only two recorded sculptures of Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara from either Tibet or China, which suggests that the cult of the deity was particularly popular with the Vajrayana Buddhist establishment in China during the Yongle and Xuande periods. After the early Ming there was reduced engagement with Tibetan Buddhism until the late Ming and early Qing dynasty, when this esoteric form of Avalokiteshvara was included in Rolpai Dorje’s (1717-86) Three Hundred Icons, see Lokesh Chandra, Buddhist Iconography, Delhi, 1991, cat. no. 2278 (75), where the deity is identified as Guhyasadhana Avalokiteshvara. Although the Xuande emperor maintained contact with Tibet, he did not have the same patron-priest relationship that the Yongle Emperor and the Yuan dynasty ruler Khubilai (1215-1294) had with Tibetan religious hierarchs. Rather, he maintained the liberalism and scholarly pursuits favored by his father Hongxi (r. 1424-1426), superseding the expansionist policies of the Yongle Emperor. Patronage of Tibetan hierarchs and monasteries was thus much reduced in the Xuande compared with the Yongle period. Consequently, there is considerably less recorded Xuande Vajrayana Buddhist sculpture compared with the relatively large numbers from the Yongle period. Xuande Buddhist sculpture, such as this gilt-wood Avalokiteshvara, was made principally for local worship rather than as tribute to institutions in Tibet as was so frequently the case in the Yongle period.

Few wood sculptures depicting Vajrayana Buddhist deities have survived from the early Ming dynasty, with the notable exception of an Amitayus now in the Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena, acc. no. 2001.1.47 (fig. 4). The statue is the same height and style as the Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara and is almost certainly from the same series. And like the Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara, the Pacific Asia Museum sculpture is a rare form of a popular deity depicted in unison with his consort. The two statues are likely to have been part of a larger series that, due to the esoteric nature of the deities, were probably placed in a chapel for private devotion and meditation rather than for public display.

Gilt and polychrome wood is a traditional medium for depicting gods in Chinese temple interiors, as seen for example in the relatively large number of surviving wood temple sculptures of Guanyin from the Song dynasty (960-1279), known for their elegant and regal posture imbued with grace and spirituality. This ancient sculptural tradition thus continued through the early Ming dynasty with this outstanding Xuande period gilt-wood figure of Avalokiteshvara and consort, their bond fulfilling the ultimate Vajrayana Buddhist aspiration to enlightenment through the union of Wisdom and Compassion.