P ioneers in the Asian art world, Tuyet Nguyet (1934-2020) and Stephen Markbreiter (1921-2014) were the founders of Arts of Asia, the premier magazine for Asian art and antiques. Nguyet began her career a dynamic journalist hailing from Vietnam and Stephen Markbreiter was a distinguished English architect. Together they shared a love of Chinese and Asian art, and over the years formed impressive collections of Chinese art, including a wonderful selection of Buddhist metalwork sculpture.
Presented here in this sale, the gathered works reflect the extensive journey across Asia taken by two passionate and dedicated collectors, in a celebration of the spectacular creative vision and skill of artisans working throughout the continent.
“With over five decades of experience, my parents had amazing knowledge, and amassed a vast collection of Asian art.”
A Magnificent Gilt-Copper Alloy Figure of Shakyamuni Buddha
This magnificent large statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, depicted at the moment of enlightenment, pays testament to the skill of Newar artisans working in Tibet or the border regions of Dolpo in the 13th - 14th century. The Newar artists from the neighbouring kingdom of Nepal were famed for their exquisite aesthetic sense and foundry skills, and were much in demand to build and decorate Tibetan monasteries. Click on the hotspots below to read more about the blend of stylistic elements brought by the Newar artists in creating a uniquely Tibetan sculptural tradition.
Up to the 13th century, the principal influence on the development of the Tibetan sculptural tradition had been the bronzes of medieval eastern India. When the Newar artists were commissioned en masse in Tibet in the 13th century they brought their mastery of fire gilding to the mix, added to their finesse in subtle and sensuous sculpture. The resulting bronzes were often both inset with brightly coloured stones and silver, as the Pala bronzes often were, and richly gilded like almost all indigenous Nepalese bronzes, thus producing an amalgamation of stylistic elements that is uniquely Tibetan of this period.
In the Nepalese tradition, the sculpture is brilliantly gilded and richly decorated with sumptuous gem settings, including lapis lazuli, turquoise and coral intricately inset in lozenges around the headband and at the shoulder. Fine coral and turquoise are amongst the most highly prized gems in Tibet, worn by both men and women and offered as adornment to the Gods.
The Buddha is robed in a simple diaphanous cloth clinging closely to the body, with only the edges showing a band of decoration consisting of a repeated chevron design. The Newar sculptural aesthetics of grace and sensuous modelling imbue the statue with serenity.
The Buddha is depicted seated in vajraparyankasana, the right hand held in bhumisparshamudra and the left in dhyanamudra. Having vowed to remain in meditation until he penetrated the mysteries of existence, Shakyamuni was visited by the demon Mara who sought to deflect him from his goal. Mara questioned Shakyamuni’s entitlement to seek spiritual enlightenment and freedom from rebirth. Shakyamuni was aided by spirits who reminded him of his countless compassionate efforts throughout his many incarnations. In response to Mara’s challenge, Shakyamuni moved his right hand from his lap to the ground before him, stating, ‘the earth is my witness’. This act of unwavering resolve, which caused Mara and his army to disperse, leaving Shakyamuni to attain his great enlightenment, is a moment skilfully captured in this exquisitely modelled and brilliantly gilded large sculpture.
The collection's highlights offer a sense of the erudition and breadth of the collecting journey of Tuyet Nguyet and Stephen Markbreiter, who gathered together marvelous examples Buddhist metalwork from all over Asia. Comparing the stylistic sculptural traditions in Eastern India, Western Nepal, and Tibet or across the Himalayas to the Imperial Court of the Yongle Emperor, these works offer insights on the spread of Buddhism as well as the cultural and artistic exchanges across centuries and borders.
- Beijing, China
The historical Shakyamuni Buddha is envisaged in this statue seated in vajraparyankasana at Bodh Gaya in eastern India, having vowed to remain in meditation to penetrate the mystery of samsara. He was interrupted by the demon hordes of Mara, the 'lord of the senses'. The Buddha overcame their attempts at seduction and distraction, and in defiance moved his right hand from the meditation position to touch the ground before him. The gesture, bhumishparsha mudra, signifies the moment of triumph over Mara in calling the earth spirit to witness his claim to enlightenment. This classic iconography of Shakyamuni Buddha is famously represented in two complete Yongle altar shrines, one in the British Museum, and the other from the Speelman Collection, sold at Sotheby’s in 2006. Yongle reign-marked images of Shakyamuni Buddha in this smaller scale are relatively rare.
- Pala Kingdom, East India
Manjuvajra, the six-armed esoteric form of Manjushri, emerged late in the Pala period. Manjuvajra is described in the Nishpanna Yogavali as providing a path to wisdom and intelligence. The crossed hands at the chest invoke the embrace of his consort, Prajna (wisdom); the display of weapons, the dispelling of ignorance; and the wisdom book (pustaka), the path. This complex and delicately modelled sculpture is a fine example of the refinement of Pala figuration. Created during the height of Bengal's Golden Age, this masterpiece demonstrates the elegance and artistic innovation for which art from the Pala period is renowned: the relaxed plasticity of form; the slender physiognomy and elaborate jewellery; the extensive use of precious metal inlay. An almost identical figure of Manjuvajra with silver and copper inlay is currently on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
- West Nepal
This complex and powerfully modelled figure represents Hevajra, one of the principal meditational deities of the Sakya order of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, in union with his consort Nairatmya. Although the craftsmanship of the sculpture is Nepalese in origin, the style emanates from the Khasa Malla kingdom, where certain classical Nepalese traditions were followed but with individual elements drawn from other sources. In common with many Khasa Malla gilt sculptures, the ungilded section on the reverse is painted red. Other features that clearly place the current sculpture within the corpus of known Khasa Malla examples include the precise structure and style of the double lotus base and the treatment of the flaming mandorla.
It is extremely rare to find any early portrait lama complete with its original throne. The current lama is finely worked in silver with sensitive depiction of his pronounced meditative expression, and intricate detailing of the robes. The gilt copper pedestal and aureole, powerfully cast with mythical garuda and flame scroll motifs, is very well preserved. Similar workmanship can be found on an inscribed 14th century silver portrait lama and gilt copper shrine in the collection of the Jokhang, Lhasa, depicting Dragpa Sengge (1283-1349), the first Sharmapa.