Acquired in Zurich, 1996.
Collection of Veena and Peter Schnell.
This splendid figure of Amitayus is an extremely rare example of Buddhist sculpture incorporating cloisonné and champlevé enamel techniques. A closely related example, and possibly a companion to the present figure, but missing the gilt openwork component of the mandorla from the Berti Aschmann collection and now in the Museum Rietberg, Zurich, was included in the exhibition On the Path to Enlightenment, Museum Reitberg, Zurich, 1995, cat. no. 34. Such figures may have comprised part of a larger group produced for the emperor to mark a special occasion or for one of the many Tibetan Buddhist temples in the capital; see a set of gilt bronze figures in the main hall of the Yuhuatai (Pavilion of Raining Flowers) photographed in situ and illustrated in Cultural Relics of Tibetan Buddhism Collected in the Qing Palace, Hong Kong, 1992, pl. 103.
A smaller figure of Amitayus, similarly seated before a gilt bronze flaming mandorla and on a rectangular base, the crown, robes and base decorated in cloisonné enamel, is published in Buddhist Statues in Yonghegong, Beijing, 2001, pl. 48; and a large figure of Maitreya with enamelled robes was sold in our London rooms, 9th May 1986, lot 625. Compare also a cloisonné enamel pedestal of lotus flower form, surmounted by a tall mandorla and set with a later rock crystal figure of Guanyin, sold in our London rooms, 10th June 1986, lot 83. For small champlevé enamel decorated figures, see a seated Buddha on a double-lotus pedal, with a Qianlong reign mark and of the period, sold in our London rooms, 9th April 1974, lot 316; and a figure of a seated lohan, attributed to the Ming dynasty, included in the Oriental Ceramics Society exhibition The Arts of the Ming Dynasty, The Arts Council Gallery, London, 1957, cat. no. 295.
Amitayus, the Buddha of Infinite Life, is the deity associated with the rites that ensure long life. The deity is especially worshipped by Tibetans, who believe that life can be extended through long lineages, faith and compassion. It is also believed that one can achieve self-enlightenment and cater to the welfare of others with the help of Amitayus. It was during Qianlong's reign that the popularity and worship of Amitayus increased substantially due to the emperor's self-identification with this deity.
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