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Lot 5: A gilt copper alloy figure of Avalokiteshvara Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Art


March 16, 2015
New York, NY, US

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Nepal, Khasa Malla region, 13th/14th century Standing in a triple-flexed pose with four arms and inlaid jewelry. 9 3/8 in. (23.8cm) high


: William H. Wolff, New York before 1965 Robert and Bernice Dickes Collection New York Carlton Rochell, Ltd, 2010 Private Californian Collection


This graceful sculpture was first published in 1964 by Stella Kramrisch in her groundbreaking exhibition catalogue, The Art of Nepal.2 Although Kramrisch ascribed a 16th-century date to the bronze, fifty years of subsequent Himalayan art scholarship makes a circa 13th/14th century attribution far more likely. The figure exhibits many of the hallmarks of sculpture from Nepal. It is cast in copper alloy and richly gilded. The finely wrought jewelry is inset with gems. The body is delicate, with diminutive proportions and an elegant, sensuous poise for which the sculpture of Nepal is renowned. The four-armed deity holds the central pair of hands in the gesture of adoration (anjali mudra) and may have held the stems of both lotuses in the upper hands. The stems of the flowers were probably fashioned separately, as one sees in a circa 14th-century sculpture of Manjusri in the Rietberg Museum.2 The iconography most closely follows that of Shadakshari Lokeshvara, a form of Avalokiteshvara that was popular in Nepal and especially in Tibet, although characteristically rendered seated on a lotus base.3 It is possible that the artist has here adapted the traditional iconography of Shadakshari Lokeshvara to the patron's requirements for a standing representation of the deity. In 1924, Benoytosh Bhatttacharyya noted 108 forms of Avalokiteshvara represented in the Machhandar Vahal, Kathmandu, many of which were without corresponding descriptions in the canonical literature.4 S. K. Saraswati likewise noted forms of Avalokiteshvara in two 11th-century Nepalese illuminated manuscripts that are not recorded in the Sadhanamala, a major Buddhist iconographic compendia.5 A circa 11th-century sculpture of Avalokiteshvara, now in the Seattle Art Museum, similarly departs from conventional iconographic norms for the deity.6 Thus while unusual, a standing representation of Shadakshari Lokeshvara is not unprecedented. Important style elements in this work can be found in circa 13th -14th-century sculpture from Nepal, such as a Vasudhara in the Rietberg Museum, where hair curls, crown, and belt design are similarly rendered.7 The closely related figures of Padmapani and Vajrapani may also be compared with the present sculpture, particularly in their design of the belts, crowns, necklaces, and lotus flowers.8 In the Bonhams Avalokiteshvara, Nepalese craftsmanship can be seen in details such as the two small metal loops at either end of the now empty channel between the two necklaces. These loops once secured a string of tiny beads, probably pearls, likely also to have once adorned the now empty channel in the crown.Gold foil, which enhances luminosity, can still be seen in one of the empty gem-settings along the proper right side of the crown. Despite parallels with Kathmandu Valley sculpture of the 13th-14th century, important features in this sculpture point to a more particular provenance for this work. The joints of the fingers on the backs of the hands are clearly articulated, a treatment seen exclusively in metal sculpture from the Khasa Malla kingdom according to Ian Alsop, author of a pioneering study of Khasa Malla sculpture.9 The Khasa Mallas, described by Alsop as 'among the least known and the most fascinating of all the Himalayan ruling families,' flourished in west Nepal and west Tibet between the 12th and the mid-14th centuries. During this period, they often controlled a kingdom larger than that of the Malla rulers in the Kathmandu Valley. They made regular raids to the Kathmandu Valley, and between 1255 and 1278, they fought to control territory in the region of Bodh Gaya, the great Buddhist pilgrimage center in eastern India.10 Devout Buddhists and great patrons of the arts, the Khasa Mallas commissioned sculptures of great beauty, closely related to but distinguishable from that produced in the Kathmandu Valley. In the Bonhams Avalokiteshvara, anomalies that distinguish the sculpture from Kathmandu Valley sculpture (aside from the articulated joints on the backs of the hands) include the lotus bud crown ornaments (which may originate in eastern Indian medieval sculpture), the relatively unfinished back, the relatively narrow coiffure, and the lovely, well-defined features of the face. Aspects of the Bonhams Avalokiteshvara can be found in published examples of Khasa Malla sculpture, e.g., the earrings, facial features, and lotus-bud crown ornaments resemble those in a Khasa Malla sculpture of a Goddess in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington.11 The back of the sculpture also reflects critical aspects of its history. Beautifully cast but relatively unfinished, it includes three metal plates covering openings where consecration materials were inserted into the hollow-cast, lost-wax sculpture. This practice, unknown in the Kathmandu Valley but commonly practiced in Tibet, is also seen in Khasa Malla works that were brought to the West Tibetan regions of their kingdom. Likewise, the blue pigment in the hair is a common feature in Tibetan culture but not used in Kathmandu Valley works. It appears in other Khasa Malla bronzes, including an Avalokiteshvara sculpture in the Claire Ritter Collection, New York and in a Shadakshari Lokeshvara sculpture in the Mr. and Mrs. John Gilmore Ford Collection, Baltimore.12 At least three other Khasa Malla sculptures represent Shadakshari Lokeshvara.13 The use of turquoise, the stone predominately featured in this sculpture, is unusual but not unprecedented in Khasa Malla sculpture.14 Jane Casey, January 2015 1.Stella Kramrisch, The Art of Nepal, New York, 1964, fig. 51. 2. Published in Helmut Uhlig, On The Path to Enlightenment, Zurich, 1995, no. 64, pp. 112-13. It is possible that in the Bonhams Avalokiteshvara, both (now missing) lotus stems were held in the upper hands. 3. See B. Bhattacharyya, The Indian Buddhist Iconography (New Delhi, 2008), p. 178. He states in his seminal publication, first published in 1924, that images of Shadaksari Lokeshvara abound in Nepal, "both in groups and singly...and almost every monastery at Kathmandu and Patan has got one in it." Op. cit., p. 35. If the artist of this sculpture indeed intended to represent Shadakshari Lokeshvara, the upper right hand would also have held a rosary (mala), fashioned in another material and now missing. 4. The Indian Buddhist Iconography (New Delhi, 2008), Appendix B. 5. S.K. Saraswati, Tantrayana Art: An Album (Calcutta, 1977), p. XXVI. 6. Pratapaditya Pal, Nepal Where the Gods are Young (New York, 1975), fig. 16, pp. 74-75. 7. Published in Uhlig, On the Path to Enlightenment, no. 97, p. 152. 8. Published in Amy Heller, Early Himalayan Art (Oxford, 2008), pl. 9, pp. 62-63; and fig. 22, p. 36. 9. Personal communication, Ian Alsop. See also Ian Alsop, "The Metal Sculpture of the Khasa Mallas of West Nepal/West Tibet" asianart.com. Alsop discusses this feature on Khasa Malla sculpture in op. cit., figures 4, 5. See also Ian Alsop, "The Metal Sculpture of the Khasa Malla Kingdom", Orientations Magazine (June 1994): 61-68; and "Metal Sculpture of the Khasa Mallas" in Jane Casey Singer and Philip Denwood, eds. Tibetan Art: Towards a Definition of Style (London, 1997), pp. 68-79. 10. Amy Heller, Hidden Treasures of the Himalayas (Chicago, 2009), p. 23. 11. Alsop, "The Metal Sculpture of the Khasa Mallas of West Nepal/West Tibet" asianart.com, fig. 1. 12. Ian Alsop, "Metal Sculpture of the Khasa Mallas of West Nepal/West Tibet" asianart.com, figs. 7, 8. 13. See figures 8, 9 in Alsop, "The Metal Sculpture of the Khasa Mallas of West Nepal/West Tibet" asianart.com, and in an unpublished example in the Crocker Museum. 14. Ian Alsop, personal communication. Referenced: HAR – himalayanart.org/image.cfm/41223.html Published: Stella Kramrisch, The Art of Nepal, Asia House Gallery, New York, 1965, no. 51. Carlton Rochell, Ltd., Indian and Southeast Asian Art: Selections from Robert and Bernice Dickes Collection, New York, 2010 Nancy Tingley, Celestial Realms: The Art of Nepal, Sacramento, 2012, no. 16.

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