Lot 323. A gilt-bronze figure of Buddha, Tang dynasty (618-907). Height 6 7/8  in., 17.5 cmEstimate USD 100,000 — 150,000Lot sold 125,000 USD. Courtesy Sotheby's.

the figure cast seated, with the proper right hand raised in the abhaya mudra, the hair in neat spirals around the ushnisha and extending to a low and straight hairline just above prominent arched brows, the features crisply cast between full and rounded cheeks, the robe open across the chest, revealing an inner garment, and draped towards the right side in soft folds, covering the foot and spilling over the seat in three tapering sections, raised on a waisted support above a band of lotus petals, all above a graduated five-step pedestal, the base with two square apertures, the back with a similar aperture for a mandorla, wood stand (2).

Provenance: Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).

Note: The present figure holds the proper right hand in the abhaya mudra, a powerful gesture meant to dispel fear. The Historical Buddha is thought to have employed this gesture in the Jataka tale of Nalagiri charging Siddhartha. In the anecdote, the envious Devadatta plies the white elephant with alcohol and lets the beast loose in Siddhartha's path. The Buddha calms the raging elephant with a solemn raise of his hand. This particular mudra was often depicted by artisans from the Northern and Southern to Tang dynasties when painting and sculpting images of the Buddha. Other elements from the tales of the life of Shakyamuni were also commonly featured in cave wall paintings from the same time period, and when the Pure Land tradition became a prominent vehicle, images of Amitabha's Western Paradise joined cave wall imagery.

Compare a related example, attributed to the Tang dynasty, with similarly styled hair whorls, the robe with a similar border of incised undulating lines, also draped over the foot in the same fashion, raised on a base of related design, illustrated in Saburo Matsubara, Chinese Buddhist Sculpture: A Study Based on Bronze and Stone Statues other than from Cave Temples, Tokyo, 1966, pl. 294a, and another related example, ibid., pl. 266d. Another similar example, attributed to the Tang period, although smaller and without a base, was in the collection of James Marshall Plumer (1899-1960), and sold in these rooms, 18th-19th March 2014, lot 176. Compare as well a figure still with its mandorla and further raised on a squared openwork base, in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and illustrated Hai-Wai Yi-Chen. Chinese Art in Overseas Collections. Buddhist Sculpture, vol.1, Taipei, 1986, pl. 81; and another, attributed to the 8th century, from the collection of Peng Kai-dong and now in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Lee Yu-ming and Chung Tzu-yin, Imprints of the Buddhas: Buddhist Art in the National Palace Museum Collection, Taipei, 2015, cat. no. 22. In these two figures one can clearly see the intended use of the apertures for the insertion of mandorlas. Another closely related figure, similarly cast in all aspects save for an exposed proper right shoulder, once in the collections of A.D. Brankston, Mrs. W.H. Roberts, and Dr. Ip Yee, was sold first in our London rooms 15th December 1981, lot 29, and again in our Hong Kong rooms, 19th November 1984, lot 17. 

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