This figure is a beautiful example of the refined work made at Beijing’s foundries during the reign of the Ming Emperor Yeong Leh (1403-1424).
The style is clearly Tibetan, which is evident because of the symmetric anatomic proportions, the dress of the deity and the double pedestal.
That is why it would not be unlikely to attribute the piece to a Tibetan master of the highest level, due to its rich materials and extraordinary technical quality.
On the other hand, a formal relationship can be established between this figure and the portraits of the monks of the Saskyapa School that have been preserved. This Buddhist order, established in the 16th century at the Monastery of Matho, in Ladakh, in the north of India (1), had a great political power at that time. A branch of this school gradually initiated the process of reforming its ideology towards Chinese Buddhism. Additionally, there was a second ‘Tibetan branch’ of the Order that maintained its original philosophy until the middle of the 17th century.
1. In 842, Nyima Gon, a royal representative of Tibet, took the city of Ladakh after the fall of the Tibetan Empire and its last Emperor, Langdarma, who had been executed after a Mongol rebellion. Nyima Gon established that area as an independent Dynasty where promoted the Buddhism ideas to a predominantly Tibetan population.
Relating to this figure, we may say that both branches of the Order are represented by the lotus petals at the base in the same elongated shape, contributing to the popular iconography of Avalokiteshvara that remains today, the bodhisattva of compassion and patron deity of Tibet.
Several Tibetan sources explain that the Amitābha Buddha assigned the task of taking care of Tibet to Avalokiteshvara, one of his main disciples. That is why, ichnographically, this deity is depicted not only in the typical way of the spiritual Tibetan masters, but also following the models of leaders and kings (like Trisong Detsen).
For all these reasons, Avalokiteshvara is considered as one of the most important deities of the Tibetan Buddhism who it is even recognized as Buddha by the Vajrayāna teachings.
To conclude, we are proud to exhibit this exquisite bronze piece, made to a high material quality and with great technical virtuosity, where certain stylistic features from the Chinese statuary of the 15th and 16th centuries, converge with the typical characteristics of the creations that started to be performed in Tibet at that time.
We can find a piece made using similar technique from the 16th century in the British Museum. Inventory number: 1958,0719.1.
LEIGHTON, Taigen Dan. Bodhisattva Archetypes: Classic Buddhist Guides to Enlightenment and Their Modern Expression. Penguin Arkana, New York (1998) Pp. 158–205.
NEVEN, Armand. Etudes d’ art lamaique et de l’Himalaya, De Vleeschouwer, Brussels (1978) Fig. nº5. P. 109
STUDHOLME, Alexander. The Origins of Om Manipadme Hum: A Study of the Karandavyuha Sutra. State University of New York Press (2002) P. 39-40.