1900 years ago - the buddhist canon
2015 sold for $ 1.09m including premium
Everything changes five and a half centuries after the life of the founder. The figure of Buddha becomes the expression of perfection. Like any human being, Buddha must be recognizable. A council sets the 32 main characteristics of the representation of Buddha.
This canon is immediately applied in stone sculpture, and then in gold coins. Both arts are familiar to the Greek civilization still influential in the neighboring regions of the Indian subcontinent, including Gandhara.
Kanishka was the great emperor of the Kushan dynasty in North India. He had his main capital at Peshawar in Gandhara and another one at Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. His reign lasted a quarter century about 1900 years ago. Kanishka was a zealous sponsor of Buddhism at the time when the Han opened the Silk Road.
On September 15 in New York, Christie's sells at lot 66 an early figure of standing Buddha of large size, 1.37 m high, in splendid condition.
It was carved in a mottled red sandstone from the Mathura region and belongs to a group certainly attributable to a royal workshop for which all elements converge to the reign of Kanishka, such as the inscriptions on similar pieces and the comparison of the attitude of Buddha with the reverse of the gold coins of the emperor.
The kaparda is a characteristic of this group. This is a specific shape of the protrusion of wisdom that overcomes the shaved head of Buddha.
The execution of this specimen is of extreme care, with the aim of providing a naturalistic vision that will make the character appealing to the faithful. The artist represented the thin pleated garment as a bulge above the skin and not by the classical incision that was much easier to achieve.
In its category, this sculpture is "a masterpiece among masterpieces" in the wording used by Christie's at the conclusion of the catalog description.
Asceticism in Gandhara
2011 SOLD 4.45 M$ including premium
When he discovered the suffering and gave up his social status, Siddhartha tried to reach nirvana by a total asceticism. After six years of this life of renunciation, he realized that this extreme practice did not bring the solution and he achieved the awakening that enabled him to provide his teaching. Buddhism was born.
A schist figure of Gandhara 80 cm high, for sale by Christie's in New York on March 22, shows Siddhartha during this period. The body is skeletal, but the attitude shows that his powers are exacerbated by fasting. He sits cross-legged on the sacred grass. Below him, in a frieze, his followers pray.
Farther than asceticism, this realistic statue has a universal value by its representation of the self-control. It is a masterpiece, estimated $ 4M.
THE ATLAS OF GANDHARA
2009 SOLD 170 K$ INCLUDING PREMIUM
It can be said of today's art that it is international. This is not really new: 1800 years ago, in Gandhara, same comment applied.
Gandhara was a transition zone between Persia and Central Asia, near Bactria and Kashmir. Located in the upper basin of the Indus, its main town was Peshawar. After the expedition of Alexander the Great, the region experienced a sustainable Hellenistic influence, which did not stop when it converted to Buddhism.
The schist statues from Gandhara are very common. They are most often showing Buddhist figures, so offering some of the oldest elements of Buddhist art. Therefore, our curiosity is attracted by the unusual subject presented byChristie's in New York on March 20: a winged Atlas, polished gray schist 40 cm high, estimated 120 K $.
It is a naked man crouched on one knee, very muscular as it is needed for his exhausting mission through which our planet has not collapsed in the cosmos. The realistic and relaxed head is decorated with a large circled beard and with hair of the same pattern.
Despite the rather Greek attributes of this hero, Buddhism is not far away. The catalog tells us that it was probably an ornament at the base of a Buddhist monument. The wings are the symbols of victory according to an Indian influence.
POST SALE COMMENT
The result is interesting. It rewards the originality and the old time of this sculpture: K $ 170 inclusive.
the buddhist caves of the wei
Buddhism has become a powerful alternative to Taoism. After the failure of their early policy of persecutions, the Wei decide to control it by gathering the faithful in gigantic artificial grottoes that are suitable for meditation. Created from 460 CE near Datong, the Yungang caves will be extended over time to 53 rooms.
The transfer of the Wei capital from Datong to Luoyang results in the excavation of the new Longmen network of sanctuaries from 494 CE. The destruction of the new capital thirty years later does not interrupt this religious development.
On March 20 in New York, Sotheby's sells a limestone relief 59 cm high, lot 201 estimated $ 1.2M. Unusually this rare piece is easier to date than to identify.
The finely chiseled character has the attitude of meditation with closed eyes, ecstatic smile, palms of the hands joining upwards and a knee on the ground. The lotus buds near the head symbolize purity. The sweetness of the asexual face is an iconography present in the Gongxian caves also created by the latest Northern Wei. An apsara of the same period on a Longmen wall has a similar position.
This figure is classified for convenience among the Apsaras but does not display the classic attributes of these divine nymphs. Who is he or she ? Not a Buddha. Probably not a bodhisattva due to the absence of offering symbols in the hands. Perhaps just the idealized image of a donor.
It is part of a collection of four pre-Tang Buddhist stones that are introduced in the video below.
535 smile and aureole
The Wei emperors are great protectors of Buddhism, practiced in hundreds of luxurious temples in and around their capital Luoyang. The altar figures must be perfect. The appreciation of the considerable expansion of Buddhist art under the Wei is linked to the discovery in 1996 of the treasure of Qingzhou, 400 statues hidden under the Song in order to stop the growth of that religion.
On September 16 in New York, Sotheby's sells an antique limestone figure of Buddha 97 cm high, probably made in the transition between the Northern Wei and the Eastern Wei 1480 years ago. This undamaged piece in superb condition is estimated $ 800K, lot 422.
Buddha standing on the lotus expresses peace and happiness through his serene smile, his half closed eyes and his raised right hand while the left hand gives a blessing. His ushnisha is a hair bun and not a bulging flesh, confirming that the main message from this figure is not wisdom.
It was carved in the round before a leaf shaped mandorla that allowed the artist to position behind his head an aureole embellished with radiant patterns, accentuating the mystical splendor.
574 IN THE FIFTH YEAR OF THE REIGN OF WUPING
2009 SOLD 68 K$ INCLUDING PREMIUM
Today we go deep into the history of China up to a time of great chaos. China was divided into five main kingdoms that were fighting one another. The emperors were weak and superstitious, their followers were agitated and corrupt.
On September 14 in New York, Christie's sells a Buddhist votive stele in limestone. This monument is dedicated to the parents of the benefactor, and dated on the third month of the fifth year of King Wuping of the Northern Qidynasty. It is exceptional that such an early work is so accurately dated.
Since immemorial time, most peoples were recording their calendar according to the reign years of their kings. We are here in the year 574 of the current reference calendar.
This cubic stele, 84 cm high, takes the form of a two parts pagoda topped with a tiled roof. Its four sides are ornated with niches carved with scenes showing Buddha and his disciples. This object is truly characteristic of its time, because this type of stele was already out of fashion during the Sui dynasty. I have described in my previous article in this group how the Sui used Buddhism to strengthen their domination over the whole of China.
Our beautiful survivor of the dark ages is estimated 70 K$.
POST SALE COMMENT
Sold $ 68 K cost included. A price slightly below the estimate, showing that this historically interesting lot did not generate passions. This is not surprising for such an atypical piece.
576 an early figure of guanyin
After Buddha, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was one of the earliest figures. He had to be known and recognized by worshipers for his role to establish communication between the Buddhist pantheon and the believers. For this mission of accessibility and compassion, Avalokiteshvara is charming, dignified, well dressed and even wealthy with many jewelry ornaments carved in the stone.
On September 16 in New York, Sotheby's sells an archaic Avalokiteshvara made in the Northern Qi Dynasty, which had been listed by the same auction house with a too high estimate in Hong Kong on October 8, 2013, lot 139.
This large sandstone sculpture 148 cm high shows the bodhisattva standing over a stele which is flanked by two lions and driven by a turtle. The use of an inscribed and dated stele is very common in this dynasty. The figure was dedicated on the 9th day of the 1st month of the 7th year of Wuping, corresponding to 576 in our calendar.
It is in good condition excepted that the forearms are missing and a lion is broken. It is estimated $ 800K, lot 424.
In China, Avalokiteshvara is known as Guanyin. This Guanyin from the Qi looks like a man without breast protuberance. He is therefore earlier than the feminization of the bodhisattva in China, which will be a consequence of his attributes of charm and elegance. This disturbing sexual duality that does not extend up to hermaphroditism loses its mystery when considering that the Buddhist figures express virtues instead of characters.
BUDDHIST SURVIVAL IN GANDHARA
2013 SOLD 720 K$ INCLUDING PREMIUM
The Gandhara region was an area of peaceful meeting and mixing between the cultures of Europe and Asia. Buddhismwas thriving there, and the Greeks were too far from their bases to form a political threat. The stone statues ofGandhara constitute a rich and varied promotional art for the various aspects of Buddhist devotion.
The breakpoint to the Greco-Buddhist culture was blown 1550 years ago by the invasion of the Hephthalite Huns who did not support Buddhism. Faced with the rise of Hinduism, Buddhists survived in small and discrete communitiesconstantly threatened with eviction.
Their art was completely transformed, not in the subject matter but by the realization of small bronzes very originalfor their time, less fragile than stucco and less heavy than schist.
Two of these statuettes are for sale on March 19 at Christie's in New York. Each one is estimated $ 500K.
Made 1400 years ago, one of them 36 cm high shows Buddha in a halo of clouds. A band of flying geese symbolizesreincarnation.
The other bronze is a rare image of Buddha in transition between childhood and adolescence, the eyes inlaid with silver. The character is also presented here in a halo of clouds. 49 cm high, made in Gandhara or Kashmir, it comes from no more than a few decades later.
POST SALE COMMENT
Successful sale for the two rare bronzes from Gandhara. The youthful Buddha was sold $ 720K and the other one, probably the earlier, $ 600K. These prices include premium.
BUDDHISM FOR THE SUI
2009 SOLD 730 K€ INCLUDING PREMIUM
Anarchy reigned in China since the fall of the Han, when a general of the North managed to conquer the kingdoms of the South, founding the Sui Dynasty. Realizing that military dominance was not sufficient to ensure the cohesion of the Empire, he converted to the religion that was already usual in the territories that he had conquered: Buddhism.
The Sui dynasty failed to maintain, but its social and cultural contributions prepared the prosperity of their successors, the Tang.
On June 11 in Paris, Sotheby's is selling a Sui figure, which represents an early witness of Chinese Buddhism. 1400 years old, 1.40 m high, in gray limestone, it shows a standing Buddha. The half closed eyes and the mouth that initiates a smile reflect serenity. The front is marked by the urna, the third eye of gods and saints which symbolizes knowledge. It is estimated 500 K €.
POST SALE COMMENT
This statue was sold 730 K € premium included, in the upper range of estimates. This price is logical for an archaeological rarity, especially since this example was large.
Sui-Tang Transition - The Buddha of the End of Time
The cult of Maitreya grows with millennial superstitions, a thousand years after the historical preaching of Gautama Buddha. The first emperor of the Sui dynasty cleverly relies on Buddhism to unify China. The images of Sakyamuni and Maitreya are often undifferentiated.
The Sui regime is a military theocracy. The emperor uses arms to eliminate those who do not follow his own conception of Buddhist orthodoxy. We are already far away from the moral principles of this religion.
His son and successor is a megalomaniac who wants to conquer Viet-Nam and Korea with huge armies of conscripts. He fails miserably and the surviving troops return with malaria. The peasant revolts that erupt throughout the country put an end to the unity of the Sui empire. The apocalyptic atmosphere is conducive to a renewed favor of the Maitreya cult. More concretely, order and unification are not restored by the deity but by a skilled general who founds the Tang dynasty.
On May 30 in Hong Kong, Christie's sells as lot 2801 a gilded bronze figure of Maitreya Buddha made during the Sui-Tang transition about 1400 years ago. The future redeemer makes the gesture of preaching in a smiling attitude of pacification. He is sitting, each foot resting on a lotus.
Between Han and Tang the sculpture is dominated by stone. The gilded bronze is rarer, chosen to simulate by its reflections the light emanating from the divinity. Its height of 32 cm appears as a limit of feasibility of this technique at that time.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's.
The Bodhisattva of the Tang
2017 SOLD for HK$ 21.7M including premium
The dry lacquer sculpture constructed and carved as a thin layer removed from over a wooden mandrel is used to obtain figures of high naturalism in the lines and in the expression of the face. The lightness of the piece allows an easy transport in procession but the difficulty of execution has limited the production and the surviving pieces are of the greatest rarity.
Two larger-than-life heads made with an identical technique were certainly produced in the same workshop for the same religious use, perhaps at the time of the Taoist emperor Xuanzong whose reign started 1300 years ago and lasted more than 40 years. The fleshy faces have an obvious similarity although the bodhisattva looks younger.
The figure of Buddha, 46 cm high, was sold for HK $ 40.4M including premium by Sotheby's on October 8, 2013 over a lower estimate of HK $ 20M.
The figure of Avalokiteshvara is 43 cm high including a tall bun. It is estimated HK $ 18M for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 4, lot 3015.
Virtually forgotten in China after its very short period discussed above, the technique of dry lacquer was exported to Japan at the time of the persecutions of the later Tang against Buddhism.
tang - the sands of tianlongshan
The ephemeral dynasty of the Northern Qi reigning 1450 years ago started the preparation of Buddhist temples in caves that were dug into the rock in Tianlongshan, the mountain of the heavenly dragon, not far from their capital in the Shanxi. This development has been continued and expanded by the Tang.
25 grottoes were discovered in Tianlongshan with a total of 1,144 reliefs carved directly into the wall complemented by about 1,500 statues in the round. These sculptures mark the culmination of the sensual and flexible Buddhist figuration under the Tang.
A Bodhisattva in sandstone 60 cm high surfaced in 1941 in the C.T. Loo collection. Despite the fragility of the stone, it is complete and in a sensational condition. It has all the characteristics of the Tang statues with a similar attitude and face line as other figures excavated at Tianlongshan. It will be sold on October 5 by Sotheby's in Hong Kong, lot 3602.
Manjushri in Nepal
A new artistic technique was developed in this copper-rich region, in accordance with Buddhist canons. At the same time Buddhism was introduced to Tibet from both Nepal and China. The Newaris were the main suppliers of copper figures for Tibetan devotion.
The Tibetan medieval Buddhism had two flourishing periods. The earlier ends in 838 CE with the outbreak of civil wars interspersed with persecution. The final revival of Buddhism is marked by the founding of the monastery of Tabo in 996 CE.
On October 7 in Hong Kong, Bonhams sells a 38 cm high figure of Manjushri in gilt copper alloy, lot 805 estimated HK $ 20M. One of the attributes to identify this bodhisattva of perfect wisdom is his tiger-tooth breastplate. He is sitting in a serene attitude with his legs crossed, without a floor.
Of course, the iconography of Manjushri is abundant in the Buddhist world and does not on its own formally assess a Nepalese origin. The model is however very old, with a perfect blend of dignity, authority and compassion. Some features are Tibetan, including his morphological robustness that may be a reference to the power of their Empire. Its traces of blue pigment in the hair come from a Tibetan ritual use.
Some details seem consistent with figures created in Dunhuang when this strategic place of the Silk Road was under Tibetan occupation, between 787 and 848 CE. This statue may also have been made in the period of the persecutions.
2008 SOLD 1.5 M$ including premium
Avalokiteshvara is one of eight Great Bodhisattvas, disciples who made the vow to follow the path shown by the Buddha Shakyamuni. He has other names that lovers of Asian art are familiar with, as the representative statuettes are numerous: Guanyin in Chinese, Kannon in Japanese.
Avalokiteshvara is masculine, but its derivatives Guanyin and Kannon are female (which is not necessarily a contradiction according to the postulates of successive lives of Buddhism).
The gilt bronze statue of 68 cm high was made 1100 years ago in Tibet but inspired by the style of Kashmir. The representation is realistic, although the chest is too strong and the arms are too long. The attitude is supposed to express compassion.
It is covered from head to feet with ornaments made of precious materials.
The Cosmic Dance of Shiva
2015 SOLD for $ 2.85M including premium
Shiva is here both Nataraja and Gangadhara.
As Nataraja, he is dancing over the dwarf demon Apasmarapurusha whom he has just defeated for the final victory against ignorance. The left leg is elegantly raised. Shiva has four arms, two of them for an organic function while the other two are entrusted to hold the cosmic symbols.
Shiva's eyes are closed and will not reopen until the end of the world but the third eye of inner wisdom begins to incise the forehead.
As Gangadhara, he is the source and the master of the sacred river whose waters fall from his head as a beautifully waving hair. Life does not exist without the benefits from the Ganges, and Shiva protects life against the flooding of the river.
Experts consider that this work was realized in southern India at the time of the dynasty of the Eastern Chalukyas. The alloy has archaic features and some elements including the opulence of the hair and the headband predate the classic iconography of the period of the later Cholas. This piece was made more than 1000 years ago, maybe even up to 1200 years ago.
It can still happen that a statue of Buddhist art is too unusual to find its place in the chronologies. This is the case of a large figure of Avalokiteshvara in massive gilt bronze 61 cm high, for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 8, estimated HK $ 30M, lot 81 in the catalog.
Its Chinese origin is not questioned by the auction house. It is later to the Tang. It is also necessarily preceding Yongle. The Ming emperor managed a standardization of the Buddhist picture now stripped of fanciful symbols to better express perfection and purity. So being positioned midway between Tang and Ming but without a similarity to Yuan art, this artwork was executed at the time when the major dynasty was the Song.
Named Guanyin in China, Avalokiteshvara is a charmer showing the right path to the faithful. Chaste, he is in those ancient times mostly a man in India and a woman in China. His garment carved in bronze with pieces of jewelry masks any nudity.
His duality is expressed here by female facial lines immediately contradicted by locks of mustache and beard. Many symbols are displayed all over the statue, such as the eyes of wisdom in the forehead and in the palm of each hand.
1042 the ideal palace of tabo
These illustrations symbolize the great concepts of Buddhism, including the relationship of the deities with the world of mortals through their communication agents, the bodhisattvas.
On March 17 in New York, Sotheby's sells a Tibetan thangka of that period, lot 1019 estimated $ 800K. This work in a strict square 125 x 125 cm is designed as the plan of a monastery with a central mandala housing the deities seated on their thrones. This circular structure is located in a square room itself protected from the dangers of the outside world by a corridor guarded by sentries.
The mandala is presided in its center by the white god of the great light, Vairochana. At each of the four cardinal points, Vairochana is accompanied by a colored deity itself flanked by four bodhisattvas. These deities are also major figures including for example Amitabha who will have a top role in the Buddhist devotion.
Peace and meditation are total within the mandala, in opposition to the torments of the outside world symbolized by the flames and by the trees bent by the wind. The faithful can not enter but pray for contacting the bodhisattvas.
Song - A Visit to Guanyin
2017 SOLD for € 2.47M including premium
The arrival of Buddhism in China generated important transformations of this bodhisattva who took the name Guanyin. After the Tang Dynasty, Guanyin finally lost his mustache, became an androgynous figure and was revered as a female deity.
To fully exercise her vocation, Guanyin must be accessible. The Chinese located her personal paradise where she could be seen in meditation by the lucky ones. This drift no longer meets the Sanskrit canon but generates another one in which 33 main attitudes are described. The statues of the temples simulate the accessibility of Guanyin in her paradise.
The Shuiyue Guanyin meditation (Guanyin on the reflection of the Moon in Water) is venerated since the transition period between the Tang and Song Dynasties. Guanyin is relaxed and smiling. She sits flexibly on a rock, her body very slightly leaning backwards, one leg bent up and the other resting or hanging. The left hand is placed on the rock and the right forearm on the bent knee.
The sizes of these polychrome wooden statues vary according to the altar for which they are intended. It is difficult to identify their origin between the Song and their rival neighbors Liao and Jin who treated Guanyin's iconography in a similar way. The Nelson Atkins Museum owns a 2.40 m high specimen announced as Liao or Jin, and the British Museum a 1.70 m high specimen announced as Song or Jin.
On December 16 in Paris (Hôtel Drouot), Leclere sells as lot 88 a Shuiyue Guanyin with the bent up leg, 102 cm high, announced as Song. Sharply chiseled and in very good condition, it still has wide traces of polychromy and has never met the xylophages. I guess that it was designed to sit on the edge of a table and has never been integrated on a rock.
song - meeting guanyin
The two deities look like humans, excepted that they are often larger than life and never stop to express perfection, for Buddha, and serene compassion, for Guanyin. Guanyin helps the mortals to overcome their shyness in order to achieve the highest level of wisdom that they can reach.
The imperial attitude varies. Under the Song, Buddhism is not dominant. It is contested by the Confucians and competes with Taoism. At this time of strong political power, the Chinese are wary against this foreign religion imported from India.
The large wooden statues maintain very marked Hindu features in opposition to Chinese traditions, such as the abundance of carved jewelry, the robe revealing the shape of the body and the high chignon.
A Song time specimen in the Victoria and Albert Museum has been studied in details. It consists of an assembly of small blocks of wood held together by pegs and dowels. The painted surface was subject to wear and was reworked over the centuries. The analysis of the statue revealed the realistic intention of the original layer with flesh color, black hair and a polychrome dress patterned with gilding. The Ming period layers will extend the gilding.
These Song statues are sharply carved. A seated Guanyin with one hanging leg was sold for € 9M including premium by Christie's on December 19, 2012. The pre sale lower estimate of € 200K expressed a posteriori the difficulty of predicting the price of such a scarce piece but this result can now be used as a reference.
On December 2 in Hong Kong, Christie's sells a wooden Guanyin sitting in the lotus position, 117 cm high, lot 2905 estimated HK $ 35M. The photo below, where the deity welcomes a visitor, clearly demonstrates the benevolent and however authoritarian presence that the anonymous artist had wanted to express ten to eight centuries ago.
A Pala Buddha from Bihar
2017 SOLD for HK$ 22M including premium
In 1930 a hoard including about 150 metal sculptures is unearthed in Kurkihar in present-day Bihar. Such a regrouping necessarily means the former presence in that place of a very important sanctuary whose history was erased when the Buddhist monasteries were destroyed to the ground by the Muslims. Preserved in the Patna Museum, this treasure has not been dissociated.
On October 3 in Hong Kong, Bonhams sells a 39 cm high Buddha, lot 16 estimated HK $ 8M. This statuette, made about 950 to 900 years ago in copper alloy inlaid with silver and copper, perfectly matches the style of the Kurkihar figures. In very good condition, it has a rich black patina due to ancient exposure to incense fumes. Like most Pala bronzes it has not been gilded.
Buddha stands on a double lotus. His figuration departs from the antique Buddhist iconography by the crown and by the simulation of jewels, two characteristics that will become common in their turn slightly later. In the opposite the expressive position of the fingers is a classical symbol.
The Pala Buddha is the second of three lots discussed by Bonhams in the video below, following a Tibetan bronze previously announced in this column.
Buddhism in Yunnan
2019 SOLD for $ 1.95M including premium
Buddhism was introduced 1200 years ago in Nanzhao by a monk from India and became the official religion less than a century later, just before the fall of the kingdom. In this Chinese region close to South Asia, devotion is closer to Indonesian and Burmese than to Chinese Buddhism. In particular, the preference of the Song for the Guanyin female representation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara does not reach Dali.
This specific canon includes from the time of Nanzhao a figure of Avalokiteshvara, or more properly Guanshiyin Pusa, standing for preaching with a tall and slender body. A 46 cm high gilt bronze made about 900 years ago in Dali is estimated $ 2M for sale by Christie's in New York on March 20, lot 813.
Guanshiyin Pusa is an emanation of Amitabha. Sometimes in Dali the god or the bodhisattva is shown in a sitting position with the legs in parallel instead of the classical position of the lotus.
In the same sale as above, lot 814 estimated $ 4M is a very rare seated Avalokiteshvara, 38 cm high gilt bronze made in Dali about 1000 to 900 years ago. The two main arms with clasped hands plus a pair of symmetrical arms with hands resting on the knees have survived. This piece includes tenons to attach other potential pairs of arms, symbols of the omnipotence of the bodhisattva. The rare vertical position of the third eye confirms the Dali origin.
Lot 813 SOLD for $ 1.95M including premium
Lot 814 UNSOLD
The Infinite Light of Dali
2014 SOLD 1.56 M$ including premium
At that time Buddhism was widespread throughout the south and south-east of the continent. Dali occupied an interesting geographical position north of Burma, in the current Chinese province of Yunnan, not so far from India and Tibet.
On March 20 in New York, Christie's sells a bronze statue of Buddha Amitabha, 29 cm high, estimated $ 1.5 M. Its gilding is fairly preserved and it kept tiny traces of other pigments.
Amitabha is positioning his fingers in the gesture of teaching nirvana. His eyes are opened for the preaching instead of closed for meditation as he is more often figured. He sits on the ground without a lotus base in a yogic pose and his robe uncovers half of the torso.
This style is attributed to the art of Dali, 900 years ago. Note however a great difficulty in distinguishing the Dali art from the art of the Liao dynasty which was at the same time ruling another kingdom much farther north. It is rare in comparison with the figures of the popular Guanyin, the female variant of Avalokiteshvara in charge of charming the faithful.
POST SALE COMMENT
The estimate was ambitious for a bronze that was not imperial. The result, $ 1.56 million including premium, is very good.
THE GENTLE TAMIL GODDESS
2013 SOLD 960 K$ INCLUDING PREMIUM
The Tamil art of South India had a brilliant time 900 years ago, at the height of the powerful Chola dynasty. The monuments are magnificent. The technique of lost wax casting is used for the bronzes.
Parvati is a favorite figure in the Hindu pantheon. In some ways, she is an equivalent of Venus: she is everything beautiful for the grace of Shiva, widower of Sati of whom she is a reincarnation.
Parvati is nice. Crowned like a queen, covered with jewels and wearing a cloth around her waist, this perfect woman is shown to the people during processions, making through her statue an attractive link between the real world and the gods.
On September 18 in New York, Christie's sells a large bronze, 84 cm overall. In a friendly attitude, slightly swaying, the fertile Parvati is standing on a lotus that is mounted on an structured basis. The details are of great delicacy, probably without carving.
This antique bronze is estimated $ 800K.
POST SALE COMMENT
The result, $ 960K including premium, is in the lower part of the range of estimates.
Amitabha and the 127 Buddhas
2012 SOLD 1.05 M$ including premium
On September 12 in New York, Christie's sells a thangka of high antiquity with some outstanding features. This artwork was painted for Buddhist devotion in mineral pigments and gold on textile about 750 years ago in WesternTibet.
The large central cartouche honors Amitabha, the Buddha of nirvana, in the attitude of absolute beatitude. He is seated on a throne with heraldic lions in caryatids.
This piece of textile is small: 65 x 56 cm. The crowd of 127 Buddhas, each one located in a square, that surrounds Amitabha is a proof of the iconographic fineness of this work. Their attitude is similar, but the color of the skin is much varied (up to bright blue) certainly for assessing that Buddhism is designed for the universality of races.
The lowest register is fascinating for the historian. It is dedicated to wise men and donors in comparable size as the small Buddhas and each of them is identified by an inscription. Thus the third from the left is Atisha, the monk who reintroduced Buddhism to Tibet two and a half centuries earlier.
Collected by an Italian explorer in 1933, this thangka remained in his collection and is offered for the first time at auction. It is estimated $ 400K, lot 559.
POST SALE COMMENT
This culturally important thangka was sold for $ 1.05 million including premium.
The previous lot was another thangka of the same period, collected by the same explorer. It was presented with the same estimate and was sold for $ 1.76 million including premium.
THANGKA, MANDALA AND PAUBHA
2008 SOLD 660 K$ INCLUDING PREMIUM
Sales of Indian and Southeast Asian art organized by Christie's in New York often include masterpieces. The next sale will take place on September 15. A separate catalogue is devoted to nine lots from a single collection, a statue and eight paintings. All these works come from Tibet and Nepal.
The word Thangka means a painting on canvas. Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning circle. This circle includes the image of a main deity. Around the circle other divine characters and symbols are represented.
We clearly see in the press release from Christie's that their favorite lot of this group is a Central Tibetan thangka representing the Buddha Shakyamuni. He sits on a throne in the center of the image (but not in a Mandala), and eight scenes of his life are shown around him. This fine painting 76 x 58 cm dates from about 900 years ago. It is estimated 600 K $, Lot 5. Christie's informs us that the influence of Indian art of Pala time is strong in this work.
Among the thangkas in mandala, the press release from Christie's has chosen to introduce lot 2. It is a Nepalese painting of 92 x 54 cm devoted to Surya, the sun god. The artist and date are identified: Kitaharasa, 629 years ago (I remind that I do not give dates according to timetables that were not in force in the concerned countries). It is estimated 400 K $.
The catalogue also includes, at lot 3, a Paubha, religious Nepalese painting dating back about 470 years ago, estimated 400 K $. This very dynamic image of 86 x 65 cm shows Chanda Maharoshana and Marnaki engaged in a fiery embrace.
POST SALE COMMENT
Only the top valued of the three thangkas described above (Lot 5) was sold. A 660 K $ including fees, it remains near its low estimate.
A Jin Buddha
2019 SOLD for HK$ 17M including premium
The Jin defeated the Liao and the Song. They destroyed the Liao empire in 1125 CE. Two years later, they conquered the most important part of the empire of the Song who nevertheless managed to maintain their power in the south of the country. The Mongol conquest eliminates the Jin in 1234 CE.
The Jin are foreigners : they belong to the Manchu ethnic group of the Jürchens. To consolidate their control over the conquered territories, they abandon their traditional shamanism and adopt Buddhism and Taoism. They become great protectors of Buddhism, commenting and editing the sacred texts.
After the Buddhist debacle that had begun under the later Tang, the Liao and the Song focused on recreating appealing places of worship. Large polychrome wooden statues depicting the deities adorn the entrances to the temples. The Jin continue this new practice.
Buddha, Amitabha and the bodhisattvas must be easily recognizable by the faithful who have to learn their respective attributions.
For that purpose the artists follow the canon that defines the features of the deities, with a human appearance of great realism associated with a dignified meditation. Only tiny details make it possible to evaluate an origin or a chronology. The statues are sometimes larger than life.
A 117 cm high polychrome Song Guanyin seated in a lotus position passed at Christie's on December 2, 2015. In a similar sitting attitude, a 122 cm high Shakyamuni Buddha from the Jin with traces of original polychrome pigments is estimated HK $ 16M for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on October 8, lot 3629.
TARA FROM NEPAL
Tara is a kind and welcoming goddess. Her role is to assist the faithful to salvation. Her skills are so remarkable that she is enchanting Sotheby's after being adored for nearly eight centuries by the worshippers of Buddhism.
This figure of gilt copper 72 cm high is for sale in Hong Kong on October 5.
The goddess is standing. She is a maiden: according to the press release, the sacred texts indicate that she is a mere sixteen years of age. Her attitude is contemplative, and the position of her hands expresses charity and instruction.
The Nepalese artist expressed the ideal woman, with voluptuous proportions. Her head and her naked torso are covered with various jewels. Her diaphanous skirt is decorated with flowers and mythical beasts.
This statue was presented to the press in Hong Kong a few days ago. An article in the official Chinese press announced that it is worth about US$ 10M. This is certainly the higher estimate.
Here is the link to the catalogue.
Bon from Tibet
2010 SOLD 870 K$ including premium
Buddhism is an open religion, which was able to assimilate and incorporate other beliefs. So, in Tibet, the followers of Bon gradually joined those of Buddha.
Made in Nepal 700 or 800 years ago, a gilded bronze statue represents a synthesis of this process. The attitude of the character in meditation, cross-legged sitting, is Buddhist. According to Bon tradition, it is the figure of a king promoted to the rank of deity under the name of Kunzang Akhor.
Fairly large in its class, 47 cm high, it is particularly remarkable for the ornaments of the body and a beautiful tiara securing a bun.
This lot is estimated $ 600K, selling at Christie's in New York on March 23.
POST SALE COMMENT
This deified king reached a well deserved price: $ 870 K including premium, near its high estimate.
The Previous Lives of Buddha
2013 SOLD 1.26 M$ including premium
From the earliest centuries of Buddhism, the doctrine of reincarnation has excited the imagination. They grouped under the name of Jataka a corpus of tales in ancient Sanskrit. In his previous lives, Buddha incarnated any animal and human form along with the most worthy social conditions. These stories are not considered as sacred texts.
On March 19 in New York, Christie's sells a painting on textile, 114 x 84 cm, made in Tibet 700 years ago, estimated $ 600K. Here is the link to the catalog.
Buddha, in the center, sits on a throne supported by lions. He is flanked by his first two disciples. Three donors are also identified.
The rest of the picture is occupied by one hundred small square thumbnails illustrating the Jataka tales, each one with a gold inscription identifying the number and title.
These minute scenes demonstrate the freshness of inspiration of these human or human-like characters involved in adventures as varied and as moralizing as the Fables of Aesop or La Fontaine. The Jataka has on the competing collections of fables the advantage of having a thread, as the human or animal lives of Buddha must necessarily lead to wisdom.
POST SALE COMMENT
This painting on a theme of great rarity deserved to far exceed its higher estimate. It was sold for $ 1.26 million including premium.
1345 The Lotus Sutra
2016 SOLD for HK$ 31.6M including premium
On May 30 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells as lot 368 a set of seven calligraphic albums 32 x 22 cm with fifty to sixty leaves each, constituting the whole of this sutra in the translation of Kumarajiva which was one of the earliest. Its writing in gold on dark blue paper displays an extreme luxury. The seventh album is dated to the fifth year of the Zhizheng period corresponding to 1345 in our calendar.
Under the Mongolian Yuan dynasty, Buddhism has almost the rank of an official religion in China. Zhizheng is the fourth era of the reign of Toghon Temür. Korea was a vassal state of the Yuan. Its king belonged to the Goryeo Dynasty.
The 28th Goryeo king had ceased to please the powerful Emperor of China, but all hopes were placed in his eldest son pushed to the throne in 1344 at the age of six. The Sutra manuscript was certainly prepared for the use of the young prince who died after a reign of four years.
> 1360 Gilt Bronze from Densatil
No detailed date is proposed for this item which could have been made early in the period of the last eight stupas of Densatil, between 1360 and 1434 CE.
1375 the mandala of light
The construction of a mandala is made of squares, circles and lines in an application that rigorously follows the prescriptions of the pandit. A mandala is inhabited by only one of the gods. For another god, a similar image is created. All the symbols necessary for the mystical teaching come into one or another of these pictures.
The center is the palace where the god resides. Its gates open the way to the seven heavens and to the Earth. The associated deities are distributed according to a principle based on a compass. The top and bottom edges include the characters from the lineage of the lama and the figure of the donor. A few inscriptions are precious for better interpreting the meaning.
On November 29 in Hong Kong, Bonhams sells a mandala 84 x 73 cm painted in distemper on cloth with inscriptions in Tibetan. This piece is dedicated to Marici, the goddess of Light. It is estimated HK $ 16M, lot 117.
Sixteen other elements of the same set are scattered between public and private collections. The colors are bright and the execution is superb. Their overall analysis converges to consider that these pieces were made in posthumous tribute to the 14th lama of a Tibetan monastery of Sakya tradition. The figure of this abbot who died in 1375 of our calendar is visible in the center of the upper frieze.
1427-1435 Feudal Buddhism in Tibet
2018 SOLD for $ 1.2M including premium
Under the Yuan dynasty Tibet was vassal of the Chinese empire. The early Ming seek a religious legitimacy from Tibetan lamas without interfering in politics, and Tibet falls into a feudalist regime where dynastic or sectarian civil war is endemic.
The very long reign of gongma Drakpa Gyaltsen was however relatively quiet. Under his protection the new Buddhist sect Gelug creates several monasteries. At the end of this period a young fief leader of Central Tibet named Norzang founds the Jamchen monastery circa 1427 CE with his spiritual teacher of the Sakya traditional sect.
The inscription names as patrons that Sakya master assimilated to a bodhisattva and the "ruling brothers" Norzang and Palzang, eager to create a place of worship where the faithful can reach the stage of omniscience. The name of the artist is Sonam Gyaltsen.
In 1435 Norzang took advantage of the civil war for the gongma's succession to sustainably take over the political power with a function of regent. At this date his brother has disappeared from history. Assuming that the referred place of worship is Jamchen, this defines the post quem and ante quem terminus of the lot at 1427 and 1435 CE, an unusual accuracy for a piece of Buddhist art.
This statuette of a refined execution is 68 cm high, a large size compared to other pieces of its period. It was thus most likely the central part of an altar. It shows Avalokiteshvara in his role as omnipotent Lord with eleven heads and one thousand arms, here reduced for the convenience of the figuration to eight primary arms and thirty-four secondary arms forming a beautiful radiant winged shape. This scarce image of the most popular bodhisattva certainly relates with Norzang's personal ambition.
Please watch the video shared by Bonhams.
A gilt copper alloy figure of #Avalokiteshvara Sahasrabhuja Ekadasamukha, also know as The Jamchen Avalokiteshvara by Sonam Gyaltsen, brought an outstanding $1,212,500 during today's Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Art sale during #AsiaWeekNY https://t.co/gfVqvDtp87 pic.twitter.com/3jyyMbtcEp— Bonhams (@bonhams1793) March 19, 2018
1435 Buddhist Piety under the Ming
2011 SOLD 33 MHK$ including premium
It is a figure of Avalokiteshvara, which we shall rather identify under his Chinese name, Guanyin, because it was donated by a senior Chinese dignitary to a temple near Shanghai.
The Bodhisatva sits on a double lotus in a peaceful attitude that encourages the blessing. He wears a rich crown, emblem of his royal dignity, and important jewelry.
This beautifully sculpted artwork has many qualities which make it being assigned an estimate of HK $ 30M.
It is 78 cm high, an exceptional size in its category. It wears a long inscription of Buddhist piety. Dated from the tenth year of the reign of Xuande (1435AD), this statue is an important benchmark for the historians of Ming art.
POST SALE COMMENT
Now the sale is made! Sold HK $ 33M including premium, this Guanyin remains close to its estimate.
Xuande - The Eight Armed Dancing Deity
2010 SOLD 18.6 MHK$ including premium
The left leg, slightly bent, is put on a crescent moon. The other, more curved, joins the mid calf. The body is slightly bent, with a pleasant position of the four heads and eight arms of the goddess. Each head is equipped with the third eye.
This object bears the mark of the Xuande period. Reigning 580 years ago, this Emperor of China, like his grandfather Yongle, was known to be an admirer of Tibetan Buddhism.
Although these dancing statues are exceptional, Sotheby's has the experience of a pair of Bodhisattvas, also Xuande, 27 cm high, which was sold 50.5 MHK$ on October 7, 2006.
Our pretty Vajrayogini is estimated 16 MHK$.
POST SALE COMMENT
The result, 18,6 M HK$ including premium, is close to the estimate.
Xuande - Deities and Consorts
2008 SOLD for $ 1.2m including premium by Sotheby's
In his mission as Lord of the world, Avalokiteshvara is the object of various figurations. With four arms and one head, he is Jinasagara, the deity of the conquerors. His color is red. When he is Guhyasadhana, he is accompanied by a consort. Avalokiteshvara is one of the two assistants of Amitabha, the supreme Buddha who reigns over the land of bliss in the Tibetan pantheon.
The Ming figures showing Amitabha or Avalokiteshvara closely and even tenderly entwined with their consort are of great rarity. The consort has a role of Prajna, symbolizing the intercession of conscious wisdom between the real world and the deities.
A disjointed couple of wooden statues that probably formed pendants for a private altar was identified. Their characteristics are absolutely similar. The group of Amitabha and consort is at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena. The group of Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara and consort was sold for $ 1.2M including premium by Sotheby's on September 16, 2008. It is estimated $ 1M for sale by Sotheby's in New York on September 10, lot 329.
This group 56 cm high is in gilded wood and gesso with traces of red pigment in the hair. The figuration of jewelry and clothing is plentiful for both characters. The attributes in the secondary hands of the bodhisattva are missing but the little knife held by the prajna on the shoulder of her friend is remarkably preserved.
By iconographic similarity with bronzes bearing the imperial mark of Yongle or Xuande, an origin from the beginning of the Ming period is not in doubt. The details of physiognomy and jewelry make opting for a Xuande origin.
Please watch the video shared by Sotheby's. It reveals that the piece is hollow and contains the relics that were sealed for its consecration six centuries ago. This observation results from an X-ray inspection that was not yet performed in 2008.
We recently met Tara in this group. She is young and charming, but these qualities must be used to lead the faithful in the right direction.
In the same sale at Sotheby's in Hong Kong on October 5, Tara is followed by an amazing and splendid Manjushri, the Lord of Transcendental Wisdom. This statue of gilded copper alloy is superb, but we can not imagine a more loathsome figure. This deity got many attributes of death after overcoming it.
It has a bull's head, a crown of skulls, seven secundary heads and twenty-four arms, symbolizing power, anger,wisdom altogether. This manifestation of Manjushri is named Yamantaka Vajrabhairava.
Buddhist art in the early Ming was used to trade with the temples of the Indian subcontinent. The dimension of this work, 99 cm high, suggests that it is not earlier than mid-fifteenth century of our calendar and that it was realized fora local Chinese temple.
To own and tame this terrible wisdom, prepare HK $ 65M. It is illustrated in the catalogue.
pre 2015 sale discussion (same lot as above)
The Tibetan and Nepalese iconography developed the most frightening characteristics to show Vajrabhairava, who can have up to 9 faces, 34 hands and 16 legs. One of the two main hands plants a knife in a skull-cup held by the other main hand. At the top of the tiara, the less wrathful figure of Manjushri softens the game while recalling that this horror is only a secondary emanation of the bodhisattva's meditation.
The gilt bronze offered in Christie's sale in New York on 15 and 16 March is exceptional in its size, 99 cm high, and the wealth of details of the sculpture. It is estimated $ 4M, lot 3203.
Vajrabhairava is standing firmly planted on his two groups of eight legs each. The feet are placed on a stack of two layers of recumbents and animals who raise their heads in contradiction with the illusion of death. The base is a classic double lotus. The deity has its usual buffalo head with its mouth opened on sharp fangs. Various heads complete this terrifying iconography.
This figure is related to Tibetan Buddhism, but from the quality of its realization and its exceptional height it can only come from the Beijing imperial workshops in the first century of the Ming Dynasty, six centuries ago.
The Buddha sold for HK $ 236M including premium by Sotheby's on October 8, 2013 was only 55 cm high but had the Yongle imperial mark.
GREAT LIGHT FOR THE MING
Vairocana is one of the incarnations of the perfect Light of Buddha. On March 23 in New York, Christie's sells an imposing statue of Vairocana in majesty, sitting on a huge lotus.
1.70 m high and finely carved, this gilt bronze statue comes necessarily from a place of Buddhist worship, public or private. The catalog does not indicate its origin, probably unidentified. Under these conditions, the estimate of $ 2M isambitious.
The inspection of the artwork nonetheless provides some certainty to the experts of the auction house.
The position of the hands in prayer is typically Chinese, and the style is close to middle Ming dynasty 500 years ago, a period which was a golden age of Chinese Buddhism. In good condition, the statue retains much of its original gilding.
1557 the ngor lineage
Ngor invites meditation around Rakta Yamari, the conqueror of death. Possibly from the workshops of Lhasa, an embroidered silk thangka that sold for HK $ 350 million including premium by Christie's on November 26, 2014 offered the central role to Rakta Yamari, proving the extreme importance of this deity in late medieval Buddhism.
Ngor also produced high quality thangkas. The Ngor lineage article in Wikipedia is illustrated by a thangka on cotton 135 x 117 cm from the late fifteenth century of our calendar. This is a posthumous honor to the fourth and sixth abbots who occupy side by side the central position, surrounded by cartridges showing the other masters and certainly also Rakta Yamari.
Another Ngor thangka in distemper on cloth, 86 x 73 cm for the original image and 130 x 83 cm overall, is estimated $ 800K for sale by Bonhams in New York on March 16, lot 15. The pure colors remain very fresh.
The two central figures are now the ninth and tenth abbots. A welcoming sentence for the accession of the eleventh abbot allows to date this work around 1557 of our calendar. Its composition is similar to that of the thangka of the fourth and sixth abbots, bringing a remarkable demonstration of the care for maintaining traditions in the Ngor lineage.
The Protector of the Tantras
2019 SOLD for $ 980K including premium
Panjaranatha Mahakala is an emanation of the bodhisattva Manjusri. With only two arms, he is the guardian of the pavilion of the sacred texts. Despite his terrible look, he is rather peaceful.
Bronzes showing this deity are very rare, except for a short period in the early Ming dynasty. This iconography has however been maintained in Tibet, with additional refinements in the dissuasive ferocity.
On March 19 in New York, Bonhams sells a 27 cm high figure of Panjaranatha Mahakala made in gilt copper alloy in Tibet about two centuries after the reign of Yongle. It is estimated $ 800K, lot 928.
Compared to his predecessors, his physiognomy appears even more powerful, with hypnotic eyes and a mouth wide open to display fangs and tongue. He is positioned firmly on his laterally folded legs. The feet are resting on the decrepit corpse of an ignorant character.
A gilt copper alloy figure of #PanjaranataMahakala, baring his fangs for all to see. Made in Tibet, circa 17th century - just one highlight from the upcoming Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Art sale, March 19 in New York. Explore the catalog: https://t.co/2BTGMBg2R4 pic.twitter.com/b0Fv4DvKtb— Bonhams (@bonhams1793) March 5, 2019
1746 The Perfect Enlightenment of the Son of Heaven
2019 SOLD for $ 2.66M including premium
Manchuria is the region that separates Beijing from the Gobi Desert, opening the road to Mongolia and Tibet. Like his predecessors, Qianlong is a protector of Lamaism. To attain the perfection of the Son of Heaven, the emperor must be imbued with the Tibetan Sutras. Qianlong sets an example by copying himself the sutras for important celebrations.
On March 20 in New York, Sotheby's sells an autograph calligraphy by Qianlong of the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment in its antique Chinese translation attributed to the monk Buddhatrata. An inscription at the end of the text indicates that the imperial writing was started on the 19th day of the first month of the bingyin year and completed on the 15th day of the following month. That year corresponds to 1746 CE.
The calligraphy was performed on 42 sheets of unequal length, each folded into several pages 22 x 10 cm with the utmost care. They were glued together by their edges to constitute two volumes of imperial quality.
The paper for calligraphy was prepared with a yellow dye to imitate the Song Sutras of the imperial collection. The text is preceded by a Buddha figure and four Buddhist emblems, each in full page, and followed by the four other emblems and a figure of the protective warrior Wei Tuo. Each volume is bound in a gold and color brocade cover and the whole is inserted into a luxurious case.
The set is estimated $ 300K, lot 548. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1770 THE HAND OF THE PANCHEN LAMA
2013 SOLD 720 K$ INCLUDING PREMIUM
The Panchen Lama is just below the Dalai Lama in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy. This scholarly master is considered as a repetitive reincarnation going back to the Buddha Amitabha or at least inspired by him.
Lobzang Palden Yeshe was one of the most outstanding Panchen Lama. In 1758 of our calendar he identified aprodigious infant as the eighth Dalai Lama.
On November 7, 2006 in London, Christie's sold in two lots a set of nine thangka made in pigments and gold ontextile, 63 x 39 cm for the largest. Lobzang Palden Yeshe was identified as the main character in this group and as the sixth Panchen Lama, which is consistent with the information provided by Wikipedia.
The central thangka, which represents himself, has a large handprint on the back, and the others do not have a similar feature. These eight other figures are representations of previous lives of the same Lama. Although this set is alreadyconsiderable, it is not complete, as demonstrated from other iconographic material on the same theme.
The catalog of 2006 was illustrated with the nine paintings and the hand in lots 132 and 133. The paintings are described as extremely fine, but I do not give the result here because their true significance had not yet been proven.
The nine paintings come back for sale as a single lot at Christie's in New York on September 18, with an estimate of $ 600K. They are considered to have been made around 1770 in our calendar and that the central verso is the Lama's handprint, authenticating this series as an original iconography made in his lifetime.
POST SALE COMMENT
This rare group of paintings was sold for $ 720K including premium, in line with the lower estimate.
FAMILLE ROSE FOR THE BUDDHISM
All trends and all shapes are represented in the Qianlong imperial porcelain. Here is an exquisite Buddhist examplebearing the six character imperial mark. This piece is estimated $ 800K, for sale by Gianguan Auctions in New York on December 9. Here is the link to the catalog on the LiveAuctioneers platform.
This is a flat bottle of moon flask type 36 cm high, with two handles in the shape of scrolling Qilins.
On a light green background, the decoration is made on each side of a central medallion illustrated with peonies andsurrounded by the eight Buddhist emblems arranged in a circle. These symbols are identified as bajixiang.
The line is sharp and nice, but the main interest of this very rare piece lies in its vivid and even joyful colors. Suchbrightness, developed under the earlier Qing, is an achievement of the enamel technique known as famille rose.