THIS IS A PREMIUM LOT. CLIENTS WHO WISH TO BID ON PREMIUM LOTS MAY BE REQUESTED BY SOTHEBY'S TO COMPLETE THE PRE-REGISTRATION APPLICATION FORM AND TO DELIVER TO SOTHEBY'S A DEPOSIT OF HK$1,000,000, OR SUCH OTHER HIGHER AMOUNT AS MAY BE DETERMINED BY SOTHEBY'S, AND ANY FINANCIAL REFERENCES, GUARANTEES AND/OR SUCH OTHER SECURITY AS SOTHEBY'S MAY REQUIRE IN ITS ABSOLUTE DISCRETION AS SECURITY FOR THEIR BID. THE BIDnow ONLINE BIDDING SERVICE IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR PREMIUM LOTS.
finely cast and gilded and depicting the ferocious aspect of Manjushri, the Lord of Transcendent Wisdom, with a horned bull's head representing Yama, the Lord of Death, his eyes bulging, flaming lips parted, fangs bared and nostrils flaring, and adorned with a crown of skulls and dharmachakra wheels, a further seven angry human-form heads facing all directions, together with a pacific face at the apex of the flaming hair representing Manjushri, all faces with a third eye on the forehead, and with his thirty-four arms arranged in a fan around the naked torso, his principal hands held before the chest holding a karttrika flaying knife and a kapala skull cup, his body draped with dharmapala jewellery, a garland of severed heads, an entwined snake and a scarf borne above the shoulders and billowing below, wearing an apron of beaded chains and tassels, and lunging to his right in pratyalidha with his sixteenth legs trampling subdued gods, birds and animals recumbent on a lotus flower pedestal
This magnificent sculpture is one of only three known fifteenth century Chinese gilt bronze figures of Vajrabhairava of such monumental proportions. The statue was formerly in the Gumpel Collection sold at Hôtel Drouot, Paris, in 1904 (fig.0). The same collection included another Vajrabhairava of similar size and style, subsequently sold by Sotheby's New York, 25th March 1999, lot 122 (fig.1). And the third example was offered by the New York dealership Rare Art Inc., see ad., Arts of Asia, November-December 1975, back cover. The three gilt bronzes are all of much the same proportions and are stylistically similar, while the present example is the only one of the three in the Lone Hero (ekavira) manifestation of the deity, where he stands alone, unaccompanied by his consort Vajravetali, in the same iconographic form as the Speelman Yongle period Vajrabhairava, Sotheby's Hong Kong, 7th October 2006, lot 812.
Including these three statues of Vajrabhairava, only a small number of monumental fifteenth century Chinese tantric bronzes are recorded. They include a Mahachakravajrapani in the Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, also from the Paris auction in 1904, Ulrich von Schroeder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, Hong Kong, 1981, pl. 151B (fig.2). The current location of a four-armed Mahakala is not known, but was again in the Gumpel Collection sold in Paris, ibid, pl. 151A. A fifteenth century gilt bronze Guhyasamaja is now in The Avery Brundage Collection, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, see Rhie and Thurman, Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet, London, 1991, p. 227, pl. 101. A four-armed Mahakala was exhibited in the 1939 New York World's Fair, and subsequently sold by Sotheby's, New York, 26th March 1998, lot 161 (fig.3). A multi-armed Hevajra is now in a private European collection; see Jacques van Goidsenhoven, Art Lamaïque, art des dieux, Brussels, 1970, p. 127. The small corpus currently known of these remarkable Chinese tantric temple images highlights the rarity of this important gilt bronze Vajrabhairava.
Yamantaka Vajrabhairava is one of the most formidable deities in the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon, the fearsome manifestation of the bodhisattva Manjushri, lord of transcendent wisdom. Vajrabhairava, the Diamond Terrifier, stands in militant posture with his multiple legs planted on subdued gods, birds and animals, with a fan of arms surrounding his massive bulk. The buffalo-headed god of destruction bellows with flaming lips parted and fangs bared, proclaiming triumph over ignorance, suffering and death. The myriad arms and heads and trampling legs symbolise the god's total mastery over all elements that bind sentient beings to the wheel of existence, the constant cycle of birth and death, passions, desires and fears. The bull's head signifies Vajrabhairava's conquest of the buffalo-headed god, Yama, the lord of death in ancient Indian mythology, thus eliminating the obstacle of death (yama-antaka) through the enlightened Buddhist state of transcendent wisdom.
While the iconography of the sculpture has its origins in the complex systems of Vajrayana Buddhism favoured by the Tibetans, the style is evolved from the artistic milieu created around the religious and political contact between China and Tibet during the early Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The patronage of Tibetan Buddhism at the early Ming imperial courts is well documented, reaching its apogee during the reign of the Yongle emperor Chengzu (r. 1403-1424), where the Tibetan hierarch Dezhin Shegpa (1384-1415), the Fifth 'Black Hat' Karmapa, was especially favoured by the emperor. They established a patron-priest relationship (T. cho-yon) in much the same way as Kublai Khan (1215-1294) had done with the Tibetan Sakya order hierarch Phakpa (1235-1280) during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368).
It was during the Yongle period that numerous gilt bronzes were produced as imperial gifts for visiting Tibetan dignitaries, or sent with emissaries to monasteries in Tibet. The majority of the bronzes from the Yongle workshops were thus small, easily transportable, personal meditation statues. The court annals of the Xuande period (1425-1435) suggest that the production of bronzes as gifts to Tibetan monasteries and their hierarchs was curtailed. And the remaining corpus of Xuande Vajrayana gilt bronze sculpture bears this out, consisting mostly of larger bronzes made for use in Lamaist temples within China. This trend continued in the Zhengtong (1436-1449) and Jingtai (1449-1457) through to the reign of Chenghua (1464-1487), where the large scale of many of the known Vajrayana Buddhist gilt bronzes from these periods suggests they were commissioned for local temple worship. No Chinese Ming bronze of the scale of the Vajrabhairava is known in Tibetan monastery collections. While the small scale of the Speelman Yongle Vajrabhairava clearly indicates its intended use as a personal icon, the present example, with its grandeur and awesome appearance, was designed to command the halls of an important Chinese temple.
Bronzes bearing inscriptions dating them to throughout the middle of the fifteenth century maintain the basic style founded in the Yongle/Xuande period. The loose fit and elegant undulations of the robes on a gilt bronze Bhaisajyaguru Buddha, dated by inscription to the first year of the Jingtai dynasty, 1450, echo the style of the earlier Ming examples, see Gems of Beijing Cultural Relics Series: Buddhist Statues 1, Beijing, 2001, pl. 115. The lotus pedestal of the Jingtai Buddha, as well as that of the present Vajrabhairava, resembles those of some of the larger scale Yongle/Xuande bronzes examples: the curled tips of the full and rounded lotus petals, with a further single flourish on each side of the petals, are similar in style to those on a large Xuande gilt bronze Amitayus, see Sotheby's New York, 25th March 1999, lot 121. A figure of Amitabha in the British Museum, dated to the third year of Chenghua, 1467, Zwalf, ed, Buddhism: Art and Faith, London, 1985, pl. 302, stands on a naturalistic lotus flower and seedpod pedestal, a most unusual composition but similar to that of a Xuande standing Maitreya in the Cernuschi Collection, see Béguin, 'Chinese Buddhist Sculptures at the Musée Cernuschi', Arts of Asia, July-August 2011, p. 73, pl. 20.
The pedestal of the Rare Art Vajrabhairava bears an inscription that dates the sculpture to 1474 of the Chenghua period, and the sculpture bears numerous stylistic references to the Yongle examples. The posture of all three Vajrabhairava statues in this mid-fifteenth century group resembles that of Yongle examples in the majestic turn of the head, imparting a sense of command and animation. Later sculptures of Vajrabhairava, when the deity again became popular in China in the Qing dynasty (1644-1912), generally portray the deity with head facing to the front: a Qianlong period example in the Hall of Buddhism in the Qing Palace, is done in the prevailing style of the period with the buffalo face looking straight ahead, see Palace Museum, ed, Cultural Relics of Tibetan Buddhism Collected in the Qing Palace, Beijing, 1992, pl. 100. One notable stylistic departure from the Yongle/Xuande style seen in these mid-fifteenth century works is the appearance of engraved textile patterns, as seen on the robe edges of the Jingtai Bhaisajyaguru Buddha and the Chenghua Amitabha in the British Museum. Overall, however, there is continuum throughout the fifteenth century with artists drawing inspiration from Yongle and Xuande works.
Vajrabhairava is a major deity in the pantheons of the Sakya and Kagyu orders of Tibetan Buddhism, both of which had significant influence at the courts of Yuan and early Ming dynasty emperors. The deity is represented in an imperial Yuan period Sakya order kesi mandala now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, see Watt and Wardwell, When Silk was Gold, New York, 1997, cat. no. 25. In the Yongle period the deity is the subject of a gilt bronze lotus mandala, see Ulrich von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Hong Kong, 2001, Vol. II, pl. 350B, and is the deity portrayed in the Speelman Yongle gilt bronze. No imperial Xuande bronzes of Vajrabhairava survive.
In addition to the Sakya and Kagyu orders, Vajrabhairava is especially important to the Gelug order founded by Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), who was deemed to be Manjushri incarnate and for whom the wrathful form of the bodhisattva was thus highly significant. The head of the Gelug order received a number of imperial invitations, but was finally represented at the Yongle court by his disciple Sakya Yeshe (1355-1435), who was well received in Beijing and found much favour. Sakya Yeshe subsequently represented the Gelugpa at the court of the Xuande emperor. The Gelug order was the emergent religious denomination in Tibet as the fifteenth century progressed. Given the supreme importance of the deity to the powerful Gelugpa order it is more than likely that the Vajrabhairava was commissioned for a Gelug monastery in China, for which there would have been imperial endorsement. And as an important example of fifteenth century Chinese metalwork it is likely to have been cast in foundries closely associated with the political and spiritual centre of Tibeto-Chinese relations, Beijing.
It was not only the founder of the dominant Tibetan Gelug order, Tsongkhapa, who was identified with Manjushri. Emperors of China had long promoted the concept of themselves as the earthly form of the lord of transcendent wisdom. And thus Vajrabhairava, the all-powerful manifestation of Manjushri, is symbolic of the ultimate authority of the emperors. This awe-inspiring statue serves to enforce the imperial mandate while representing the highest ideals of the spiritual path to Buddhist enlightenment.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.