A GILT COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF STANDING BUDDHA CENTRAL TIBET, 11TH/12TH CENTURY

This lot has been removed from the website, please contact customer services for more information

Lot 1204
A GILT COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF STANDING BUDDHA
CENTRAL TIBET, 11TH/12TH CENTURY

US$ 800,000 - 1,200,000
HK$ 6,200,000 - 9,400,000
A GILT COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF STANDING BUDDHA
CENTRAL TIBET, 11TH/12TH CENTURY
Himalayan Art Resources item no.4488
32 1/8 in. (81.5 cm) high

Footnotes

  • 藏中 十一/十二世紀 銅鎏金佛陀立像

    This grand and distinctive sculpture of Shakyamuni Buddha, created during a period that marks both the revival of Buddhism in Tibet and a formative phase in Tibetan Buddhist art, has arguably more in common with Buddha images of North India and Central Asia from the previous 500 years than with those produced during the subsequent millennia of Tibetan sculpture. At over two-and-a-half feet tall, the figure has the scale of a central shrine image for a smaller chapel. Considering the increased difficulty of metal casting at high Himalayan altitudes, it is a technical tour-de-force. The physique has an exceptionally lithe quality. The face's blend of Indian and Tibetan features results in a countenance of confident nobility. The feet are beautifully cast, with the right slightly forward and the toes extending beyond the lotus pedestal, a nuance that accentuates the figure's contrapposto. Representing the Buddha with a swayed standing posture, right palm raised toward the viewer and left hand clutching the edge of his monastic robe, the sculpture revives a mode of representation in bronze and other portable mediums popular throughout North India, Central Asia, and China, as Mahayana Buddhism spread eastwards along the Silk Roads (figs.1-3). Curiously, the pose is rarely repeated in Himalayan sculpture beyond the 12th century, replaced instead by a seated depiction of Shakyamuni. Finely chased into the robe, the sculpture also features patterns echoing designs used in Central Tibet in the 11th century, as well as earlier motifs adopted by the Tibetan Empire of the 7th-9th centuries. Its combination of modelling, iconography, and patterns make this gilt bronze a rather singular depiction of Shakyamuni Buddha from Tibet, while at the same time wonderfully encapsulating the distinctive archaism of Tibetan art at a pivotal moment of its history.

    This elegant gilt bronze shares numerous characteristics with painting and sculptural programs at a series of monuments in Central Tibet. These monumental projects, namely Shalu, Nyethang, Yemar, Kyangpu, and Drathang (hereafter, the "Shalu-Drathang group") were undertaken in the 11th century, at the onset of the Second Diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet. Heller aptly coined this period, which extended between approximately 978 and 1100, "The Reaffirmation of Buddhism in Tibet" (Heller, Tibetan Art, 1999, p.61). Unlike the art produced during the subsequent centuries, which established a canonical Tibetan style, that of the Shalu-Drathang group features a patchwork of subjects, artistic idioms, and traditions drawn from India, Nepal, Central Asia, and China. These borrowings not only reflect the international quality of Buddhism during this period, but also reference the Buddhist material culture adopted in Tibet between the 7th-9th centuries.

    The floral patterns finely chased into the robe hem draped across Shakyamuni's chest is the first element associating the present bronze with the Shalu-Drathang group. Derived from Indian textile designs, the same type appears on the lower garment of a c.12th-century bronze Pala bronze of Maitreya at a temple in Nyethang (Henss, The Cultural Monuments of Tibet, vol.I, 2014, p.265, no.395; also published in von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, vol.I, p.315, no.108B). Nyethang served as the first sanctuary for the relics of Atisha (982-1054), a pandit from Northeastern India who was one of the greatest masters of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and the foremost representative of the Second Diffusion in Tibet. The Nyethang Maitreya is cast in the Pala-Sena style of Northeastern India (11th/12th centuries), and is thought to have either been brought from India or made by an Indian artist working in situ (Henss, op. cit., vol.I, 2014, p.266). Arranged within roundels and lozenges, the daisy-like flower motif shared by this Maitreya and the present sculpture is found elsewhere across the Shalu-Drathang group. For instance, it is repeated on the wall behind a no-longer-extant monumental sculpture of Maitreya at Yemar (photographed in 1947; ibid, vol.II, p.564, no.804), and covers the princely garb of a bodhisattva at Drathang (fig.4).

    Produced between 1081-93, the murals of Drathang correlate closely to the present lot. Borrowings from the Pala-Sena style are apparent throughout. For example, while the present Shakyamuni's handsome face has a squarer, more Tibetan physiognomy than Buddhist bronzes made in India around the 11th century, his mouth, eyes, and brow mimic features of the Pala style—a combination present throughout the host of bodhisattvas painted at Drathang. Compare the treatment of the plump lower lip and recessed rounded corner of the smile of a painted Maitreya (fig.5). The present Shakyamuni also adopts the undulating upper lid and prominent pupil of Maitreya's eye, as well as his sinuous brow with upturned ends. The numerous buddhas at the center of many of the Drathang murals display similar Pala-inspired tall ushnishas of snail-shell curls (fig.6a). Yet below one these Drathang buddhas we find an uncanny detail. Supporting the lotus throne of Vairocana are lions scratching their necks with their back paws—a whimsical vignette that is repeated on this Buddha's robe (fig.6b).

    The petaled roundels containing lions incised across the thighs are often referred to as "Sasanian roundels". The design traces back to Central Asian princely fashions adopted by the Pugyel dynasty, which ruled Central Tibet between the 7th and 9th centuries and patronized Buddhism during the First Diffusion. For example, a silk panel fragment with prancing lions held in the Abegg-Stiftung, Switzerland, probably woven in Sichuan or Sogdiana in the 8th/9th century, bears an inscription indicating it was placed in a Tibetan tomb as an offering (fig.7). Such archaistic references to the dress, material culture, and religion of the Pugyel dynasty is one of the unifying characteristics of the Shalu-Drathang group. As Henss explains, "These luxury items, which had first become valued in Tibet during the Imperial Period in the 7th century, became popular again during the Second Diffusion of Buddhism, when the noble robes and exquisite designs turned into emblems of the great imperial past, of sacred kingship, and of royal Buddhahood" (ibid., vol.II, p.568).

    This revival of the material culture and Buddhism of the Tibetan Empire during the First Diffusion is also reflected in the piece's iconography. The sculpture shows Shakyamuni standing in contrapposto, his right hand in abhaya mudra, offering reassurance to his followers, while his left hand proffers the monastic robe. The iconography follows many of the earliest bronze Standing Buddhas produced in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, such as those created during the Gupta, Post-Gupta and Post-Gandharan periods (figs. 1 & 2). Huntington argues that the two hand gestures actually form a single mudra called vyakarana, representing Buddha predicting the enlightenment of his devotees, a key Mahayana paradigm (Huntington, "Understanding the 5th Century Buddhas of Sarnath", Orientations, March 2009, vol.40, no.2, p.86). Huntington advances that Sarnath, the North Indian site of Buddha's first teachings, may have been a key location for pilgrims to receive such predictions, given its profusion of Kushan and Gupta sandstone sculptures depicting this mudra (fig.8, for example).

    The sculpture's modelling also uniquely echoes the Standing Buddhas of the Gupta and Post-Gupta periods (i.e., 5th-8th centuries), in contrast to prevalent modes of depiction at the time of this bronze's casting. The contrapposto, lithe physique, and bare right shoulder are redolent of the 'slender sensuousness' of the Gupta Sarnath Buddhas, which was continued at Nalanda during the Post-Gupta period (cf. Asher, Nalanda, 2015, p.71). Compare the similarity of these features with two bronzes baring a right shoulder excavated at Nalanda (von Schroder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, 1981, 46C&E) in contrast to the cape-like robes, more corpulent physiques, and sometimes rigid stances of a representative host of Standing Buddha images produced across Kashmir, the Western Himalayas, Nepal, and Northeastern India between the 10th-12th centuries (ibid., nos.17B-C, 18E, 19C-D, 23C-D [Kashmir], 29A-D [Western Himalayas], 60A-C, 61E-F, 67A-D [Northeastern India], 86D [Nepal]; see von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, vol.II, 2001, pp.432-67 for more from Nepal). Nalanda was the preeminent international center for Mahayanist education during the First Diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet, and this sculpture appears to render homage to the style of Buddha sculpture produced at Nalanda during this earlier period (fig.9).

    The overwhelming majority of Tibetan images of the Buddha depict the sage seated with his right hand in the 'earth-touching' gesture (bhumisparsha mudra), making this piece truly unique for its eulogy to the artistic and liturgical legacies of Northern India. It may seem counterintuitive to consider such an early Tibetan Buddhist sculpture as archaistic, but it is hard not to infer this intention from the sculpture's retrospective iconography, modelling, and textile designs. The idiosyncratic sculpture and painting created in Central Tibet during the 11th century embraces contemporary doctrinal and stylistic innovation while also celebrating the Buddhism that was practiced in Tibet when the religion was first introduced. As such, this large and beautiful gilded Buddha provides a rare glimpse into the formative period of the Second Diffusion, when Tibet revived its patronage of Buddhism.

    (Please refer to our printed or digital catalog for the figures listed in this essay.)

    Provenance:
    Private European Collection, acquired in London, 1997
    Private US Collection
Contacts
A GILT COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF STANDING BUDDHA CENTRAL TIBET, 11TH/12TH CENTURY
A GILT COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF STANDING BUDDHA CENTRAL TIBET, 11TH/12TH CENTURY
A GILT COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF STANDING BUDDHA CENTRAL TIBET, 11TH/12TH CENTURY
A GILT COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF STANDING BUDDHA CENTRAL TIBET, 11TH/12TH CENTURY
A GILT COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF STANDING BUDDHA CENTRAL TIBET, 11TH/12TH CENTURY
A GILT COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF STANDING BUDDHA CENTRAL TIBET, 11TH/12TH CENTURY
Auction information

This auction is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future auctions, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this auction, please contact customer services.

COVID-19 Notice

In person bidding will be subject to availability and will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours of the auction start time.

Buyers' Obligations

ALL BIDDERS MUST AGREE THAT THEY HAVE READ AND UNDERSTOOD BONHAMS' CONDITIONS OF SALE AND AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THEM, AND AGREE TO PAY THE BUYER'S PREMIUM AND ANY OTHER CHARGES MENTIONED IN THE NOTICE TO BIDDERS. THIS AFFECTS THE BIDDERS LEGAL RIGHTS.

If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories excluding Arms & Armor, Coins and Medals, Motor Cars, Motorcycles, Wine & Whisky

27.5% on the first $12,500 of the hammer price;
25% of the hammer price of amounts in excess of $12,500 up to and including $600,000;
20% of the hammer price of amounts in excess of $600,000 up to and including $6,000,000;
and 14.5% of the hammer price of any amounts in excess of $6,000,000.

Payment Notices

Payment for purchases may be made in or by (a) cash, (b) cashier's check or money order, (c) personal check with approved credit drawn on a U.S. bank, (d) wire transfer or other immediate bank transfer, or (e) Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover credit, charge or debit card for returning clients only. Please note that the amount of cash notes and cash equivalents that can be accepted from a given purchaser may be limited.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licenses please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

App