098N10233_B7QML

1566714946497820_308-1

Lot 308. A large gilt-bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara, Ming dynasty, 16th-17th century. Height 26 1/3  in., 67 cm. Estimate USD 100,000 — 150,000Lot sold 524,000 USD. Courtesy Sotheby's.

the deity cast seated in vajraparyankasana with the proper left hand supporting a small vessel, the other holding a willow stem, a pierced diadem centered with a seated Amitabha Buddha encircling a neatly combed topknot, the long remaining tresses plaited over each shoulder, the face serene and content, the earrings and necklace ornament each formed as an eight-petal flower issuing a leaf-form pendant, the necklace resting on the bare chest, framed by the open robe draped over the shoulders, the dhoti and robe all decorated with floral incised borders and diaper-patterned panels, raised on an elaborate lotus base comprised of four tiers of overlapping petals all raised on a splayed foot (2).

ProvenanceThe Chang Foundation Collection.

LiteratureJintongfo zaoxiang tulu/Buddhist Images in Gilt Metal, Taipei, 1993, pl. 38.

Note: The present figure of China’s most beloved bodhisattva holds in the lowered hand a vessel symbolically filled with a healing elixir. A willow stalk is held in the opposite, raised hand. The willow has apotropaic properties and is used to sprinkle the elixir over devotees. In practice, prior to some Buddhist ceremonies, water is prepared in a designated vessel, and during the ceremony the invoked deity is thought to bless the water. The water is then sprinkled upon those praying, and the ‘elixir’ is thought to cleanse negative karma and heal the unwell. As the present figure’s attributes are evocative of this practice, this iconographic form was particularly popular among devotees wishing for good health. The willow branch itself has unique significance to the Chinese worship of Avalokiteshvara, known as Guanyin in Mandarin. For further discussion of the development and worship of this particular emanation of the deity with a willow branch, see lot 322 in this sale.

Buddhist gilt-bronze figures were produced in China almost when Buddhism was embraced by various courts after the Han dynasty. Until the Tang dynasty, however, figures remained relatively small in size. One of the earliest developments away from small votive images took place in the Liao dynasty, when sculptures not only became larger but also adopted a more sculptural aesthetic. During the early Ming period the court gained control of the production of Buddhist figures and a distinct style developed, affecting the design of future Chinese Buddhist gilt-bronze images, as exemplified by the present work.

A related figure from the Nitta Collection, with similar ornaments, garments, and attributes but on an elevated lotus base, now preserved in the National Palace Museum, is illustrated in The Casting of Religion: A Special Exhibition of Mr. Peng Kai-dong’s Donation, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2004, cat. no. 167. A related figure with similar crown, face, and garments but of a larger size, is also in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, attributed to the Ming period, 16th or 17th century, cast as part of a triad flanking Amitabha with a figure of Mahastamaprapta, illustrated in Huixia Chen, A Special Exhibition of Recently Acquired Gilt-Bronze Buddhist Images: Lidai jintongfo zaoxiang tezhan tulu, National Palace Museum Taipei, 1996, cat. no, 26. Compare as well similar gilt-bronze figures of Avalokiteshvara, with the same attributes and on varying lotus bases, including one sold in these rooms, 19th September 2002, lot 165, and another in our London rooms, 5th December 1995, lot 30; and a third, also sold in these rooms, 29th November 1993, lot 171.

Sotheby's. Bodies of Infinite Light Featuring an Important Collection of Buddhist Figures Formerly in the Collection of the Chang Foundation, New York, 10 Sep 2019.