An important gilt copper-alloy figure of Amitayus Attributed to Sonam Gyaltsen (active 15th century), Central Tibet, Circa 1430-1440 (2)

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Lot 30
An important gilt copper-alloy figure of Amitayus
Attributed to Sonam Gyaltsen (active 15th century), Central Tibet, Circa 1430-1440

HK$ 7,000,000 - 9,000,000
US$ 900,000 - 1,200,000
An important gilt copper-alloy figure of Amitayus
Attributed to Sonam Gyaltsen (active 15th century), Central Tibet, Circa 1430-1440
The princely Bodhisattva exquisitely cast seated cross-legged in dhyanasana on an elaborate double-lotus pedestal, the hands held in dhyana mudra holding the eternal vase, the bare torso wearing a shawl draped around the shoulders delicately incised with scrolling cloud pattern and floral hems, wearing a lavishly bejewelled dhoti gathered in elegant pleats on the base, richly embellished with regal earrings, necklaces, armlets and bracelets with foliate projections inset with turquoise, the serene face with downcast eyes framed by an intricate tiara set in front of the high chignon, box. 43cm (17in) high (2).


  • 藏中 約1430-1440 銅鎏金嵌綠松石無量壽佛像 傳為索南堅贊之作

    Himalayan Art Resources item no.16792

    Sotheby's Parke-Bernet, New York, 23 May 1979, lot 85
    Navin Kumar, New York
    A French private collection, Paris, acquired from the above on 31 August 1984
    Christie's Paris, 19 December 2012, lot 209
    An important Asian private collection

    紐約Navin Kumar舊藏

    Published and Illustrated:
    U.von Schroder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, Hong Kong, 1981, p.446, no.121A

    馮·施羅德著,《Indo-Tibetan Bronzes》,香港,1981年,頁446,編號121A

    The magnificent gilt-bronze figure of Amitayus bears all the hallmarks of the exceptional master-craftsmanship of one of the greatest known artists in Tibet, active during the first half of the 15th century, namely, the master craftsman Sonam Gyaltsen.

    The attribution to Sonam Gyaltsen is demonstrated in the evident similarities to the gilt-copper alloy figure of Avalokiteshvara Sahasrabhuja Ekadasamukha, circa 1430, identified by inscription to have been made by Sonam Gyaltsen, which was sold at Bonhams New York, 19 March 2018, lot 3033. These close similarities are manifest in the comparable sculptural facial features, the turquoise-inlaid jewellery, the incised decoration, and lotus lappets: Gyaltsen completes his bronze's lotus petals in the round with symmetrically curling plump inner corolla on top of swelled outer petals with pointed tips. Gyaltsen lightly engraves Amitayus' silks with auspicious symbols. He models Amitayus with slender physiognomy. The hair is distinctively arranged into a fringe of rounded curls before the crown. Gyaltsen apportions the jewellery with restraint, such that small turquoise settings brilliantly lead the eye over the body without distracting from its alluring suppleness. Lastly, in the handsome face, Gyaltsen elegantly captures the benevolent and restful essence of Amitayus.

    As noted in the inscription of the Sonam Gyaltsen Avalokiteshvara, the master craftsman had the patronage of the Rinpung dynasty and more specifically the third monarch, Norbu Zangpo (1403-1466) who ruled between 1435 and 1466. The dynasty's seat of power was in Shigatse, Tsang Province in Central Tibet, and its rulers mostly patronised the Sakya order. This figure was created at the culmination of the foundation or enlargement of Jamchen Chode monastery near Shigatse, circa 1430. It is therefore possible that the present figure of Amitayus was also created as part of the project of the Jamchen monastery.

    Whilst the Bonhams Avalokiteshvara remains the only known inscribed figure identified by inscription to be by Sonam Gyaltsen, it allows us to attribute other important sculptures in public and private collection to the great master. Compare with a gilt-copper figure of Vajrabhairava illustrated by U.von Schroeder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, Hong Kong, 1981, p.451, no.123E, which most closely matches the present sculpture's double lotus base with engraved design.

    Attributed to Sonam Gyaltsen: A Magnificent figure of Amitayus

    Jeff Watt

    Amitayus, Buddha (Tibetan: tse pag me; who is also known as The Enlightened One of Immeasurable Life, Lord of Limitless Life and Pristine Awareness, the Sambhogakaya Appearance (Enjoyment Body) of Buddha Amitabha. The term 'Buddha' has two different meanings. The first meaning is an abstract religious definition and the second is a descriptive term used in Himalayan style art. In the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism Amitabha resides in the western direction in the Pureland called Sukhavati (Land of Great Bliss). Full descriptions of his iconography and environment are found in the literature of the Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra.

    The two names, Amitayus and Amitabha Buddha, describe the same entity, the same individual. Along with the two different names there is a difference in emphasis and a different appearance. Amitabha Buddha has the classic look of a Buddha figure wearing monastic robes, holding a begging bowl and displaying an ushnisha on the crown of the head. Amitabha, in the buddha manifestation, is known as the Buddha of Immeasurable Light. The Amitayus form is depicted as a peaceful male deity with long flowing hair, beautiful ornaments, heavenly garments, along with a long-life vase resting on the palms of the two hands placed in a meditation gesture. Although a Buddha, Amitayus, does not have Buddha appearance, but rather the appearance of a peaceful deity, and he represents immeasurable life, or rather the quality and promise of long life. The two names are often confused, conflated or used interchangeably. With painted examples, the two figures are both depicted in a red colour.

    'Bhagavan Lord of Limitless Life and Pristine Awareness with a body red in colour, one face, two hands and with two long eyes glancing with compassion on beings, gazing on the entirety of migrators; and a smiling face, wearing the complete sambhogakaya vestments. Above the two hands held in meditation is a long-life vase filled with the nectar of immortality; with the hair in tufts, adorned with silks and jewels, seated in vajra posture, the body blazing with the shining light of the [32] marks and [80] examples'. (Sakya Tridzin Kunga Tashi, 1656-1711).

    The style of the present figure can be firmly compared and attributed to the early 15th century hand of Sonam Gyaltsen. This is evident in the body proportions, ornamentation and many minor details. The idea of a Sonam Gyaltsen atelier and distinctive sculptural style is relatively new, presented in New York first in early 2018, based on an inscription located on the lotus base of an Avalokiteshvara sculpture (Bonhams New York, 19 March 2018, lot 3033; Himalayan Art Resources item no.61516). The inscription was rich with information. Based on a triangulation of dates of four persons, two named donors, a well-known historical Buddhist teacher and the artist, a date of circa 1425 could be established for that sculpture.

    A close comparison of the two sculptural works, the present Amitayus and the Sonam Gyaltsen Avalokiteshvara, demonstrates that they are both of similar date and made in the same workshop and most likely by the hand of the artist Sonam Gyaltsen.

    Since 2018 many more works have now been identified as belonging to the Sonam Gyaltsen sculpture atelier. However, unlike the firm attribution of the Avalokiteshvara by the inscription and the Amitayus by close comparable style and craftsmanship - this does not mean that all of the other sculptures were created or designed by the artist Sonam Gyaltsen. The name Sonam Gyaltsen, as found on the Bonhams Avalokiteshvara inscription, gave the crucial information in order to place that sculpture and similar stylistic works not only at a specific time, circa 1425 and later, but also geographically in the Tsang region of Tibet and specifically in the Shigatse/Shalu area. A number of objects from the body of work are of excellent quality and design, followed by many works that appear derivative and of a later production, some with tentative dates, for the later pieces, placing them into the 16th century.

    Some of the special characteristics of the Sonam Gyaltsen atelier style are a well-proportioned body, fluid in movement and natural in appearance. Incising of floral patterns is commonly found around the bottom of the lotus base. Slight incising can be found on the small tips of the two layers of the double lotus base. The crown, earrings, three necklaces (choker, short, long), armlet, bracelets, anklets and belt are opulent and decorated with inset stones, turquoise stone being the most abundant.

    The most essential point of these sculptural discoveries is that based on an identified inscribed work, along with a date, a general location can now be placed on a large body of sculpture albeit named after a specific prominent artist, the only named artist identified at this time for this sculptural style.

    It is therefore reasonable that the now clearly recognisable style can be named, until more historical data is acquired, as the Sonam Gyaltsen sculpture atelier. From the standpoint of historical research that is the first important point. The second important point is the acknowledgement of the atelier as producing some of the finest Tibetan sculpture created during a golden age of both art and Tibetan literary output. The style represents a true synthesis of the best characteristics of sculpture styles from the surrounding regions of the Himalayas, India, Kashmir, Nepal and China, reshaped into a truly unique Tibetan aesthetic flourishing in the 15th century.

    The present sculpture of Amitayus is arguably the only other work which to date can be firmly attributed to Sonam Gyaltsen, therefore further adding to the current identifiable body of work by the master sculptor.

    Jeff Watt

    October 2019



    根據十一面觀音的銘文,索南堅贊的藝術離不開仁蚌巴王朝諾布桑波 (1403-1466)對他的鼎力支持。政權中心位於衛藏中的仁蚌宗(今日喀則),主要信奉支持薩迦法王。本件觀音像作於日喀則附近的超浦寺擴建期間,時惟1430年。由此,本件無量壽佛像亦有可能作於超浦寺。

    雖然邦瀚斯所售出之十一面觀音像為目前僅見索南堅贊銘文的作品,但是為鑒別其他索南堅贊作品提供了重要參照。參考一件銅鎏金大威德金剛,其蓮辦和本件頗似,見馮·施羅德著,《Indo-Tibetan Bronzes》,香港,1981年,頁451,編號123E。





    此尊造像出自十五世紀早期索南堅贊之手當無疑義,以其身形比例,裝飾以及其他諸多細節足以支撐這一判斷。關於索南堅贊的藝術風格及其流派的討論方興未艾,最近的實例則是紐約邦瀚斯2018年3月19 日售出的一件銅鎏金十一面觀音像,拍品編號3033,喜馬拉雅藝術網編號61516。造像銘文提供了大量信息,根據銘文中的四個人名的比對分析—其中包括兩位供奉者,一位著名的上師以及藝術家本人,大致可以確定這尊十一面觀音像鑄於1425年。






An important gilt copper-alloy figure of Amitayus Attributed to Sonam Gyaltsen (active 15th century), Central Tibet, Circa 1430-1440 (2)
An important gilt copper-alloy figure of Amitayus Attributed to Sonam Gyaltsen (active 15th century), Central Tibet, Circa 1430-1440 (2)
An important gilt copper-alloy figure of Amitayus Attributed to Sonam Gyaltsen (active 15th century), Central Tibet, Circa 1430-1440 (2)
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