Lot 324. A bronze figure of Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara, Song dynasty (960-1279). Height 14 5/8 in., 37 cm. Estimate USD 300,000 — 500,000. Lot sold 375,000 USD. Courtesy Sotheby's.
the divine figure beautifully cast in rajalilasana, supported by a tripod armrest beneath the proper left elbow, the opposite arm languidly extended and resting on the raised knee, the left leg pendent over the seat, the high, scrolled topknot encircled by a bejeweled diadem with streaming sashes, framing a serene face with finely incised brows and a gentle smile, the earlobes long with heavy suspended pendants, the torso adorned front and back with a tiered necklace, the shoulders with a long sash draped across, the arms with bands and bracelets, further jewel pendants and a ribbon-tied sash adorning the dhoti, extending from the outer cloth swathed around the waist, the luxuriant gathered fabric spilling over the seat beneath the pendent leg, with the foot resting upon a lotus pod wreathed with petals, wood stand (2).
Please note the dating of this lot is consistent with its Oxford Authentication Ltd. thermoluminescence test result, no. N115a44.
Note: The 'Water-Moon' pose of Avalokitehsvara is derived from a passage in the Avatamsaka Sutra (Huayan or 'Flower Garland' Sutra), which tells of the spiritual journey of the youth Sudhana. The boy is advised by bodhisattva Manjushri that he will visit 53 different beings in his quest for ultimate truth. On Mount Potalaka Sudhana finds his 28th host, Avalokiteshvara. The deity is in his own home, surrounded by lush bamboo groves on a remote island. On a diamond-form boulder, Avalokiteshvara reclines and preaches the dharma to Sudhana.
A closely related bronze 'Water-Moon' Avalokiteshvara figure attributed to the Song period, from the collection of Grenville L. Winthrop (1864-1943) and now at the Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, is illustrated in Hugo Munsterberg, Chinese Buddhist Bronzes, Tokyo, 1967, pl. 68 (fig. 1). Munsterberg states 'the most outstanding of the seated Kuan-yin figures of the Sung period is without question the superb example in the Winthrop collection of the Fogg Museum...The style is also typically Sung, with soft contours, flowing lines, and a soft, painterly manner...The attitude expressed by the image is also characteristic, having the air of elegance and languid sophistication associated with this age of refinement,' ibid., p. 70. The casting of the present figure with that of the Winthrop example suggests these two figures were cast in the same studio.
A Gilt-Bronze ‘Water-Moon’ Avalokiteshvara, attributed to the 9th or 10th century, Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop (1943.53.60). Courtesy of Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum
Compare as well a Jin dynasty polychrome wood figure in the same pose, dated by inscription to the year 1168, with the figure leaning the proper left elbow on a rocky outcrop, now in the Yale University Art Gallery Collection, acc. no. 1956.39.1. A bronze 'Water-Moon' figure attributed to the Song dynasty, smaller and with a grotto behind the figure, sold in these rooms 15th March 2017, lot 542.
The earliest dated depiction of 'Water-Moon' Avalokiteshvara is in the lower right corner of a painting of the thousand-armed and thousand-eyed emanation of the bodhisattva, dated 943 and from the Mogao Grottoes, Dunhuang, now preserved in the collection of the Musée Guimet, Paris, and illustrated in Denise Patry Leidy and Donna Strahan, Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2010, pl. 87. In this image, the brilliant halo that encircles the deity resembles a full moon. As Chun-fang Yu discusses in Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism, 850-1850, Lawrence, Kansas, 1994, p. 156, the 'Water-Moon' version was often represented by artisans at Dunhuang. Many of these works were completed between the 10th and 13th centuries, suggesting the importance placed on this particular emanation of the bodhisattva during this period.