A COPPER FIGURE OF AVALOKITESHVARA Nepal, 7th/8th century
Profit Estimate: 30% - 70%
Hold Period: 180 Days
A COPPER FIGURE OF AVALOKITESHVARA
Nepal, 7th/8th century 7 3/8 in. (18.7 cm) high
Provenance: James Keggie, England, 1980s
Carlo Cristi, Italy, 2006
The Bonhams standing bodhisattva is also a rare example of Nepalese gilt copper sculpture
from the Licchavi period. It represents a form of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, identified by
the right hand in the gesture of charity (varada mudra) and the left held at the hip as if grasping
the stem of a lotus, but here simply poised over the sash. The figural proportions, facial
features, and jewelry design all indicate a Licchavi period work, with close similarities to
c. 7th-8th-century stone sculpture from the Kathmandu Valley, notably a standing Padmapani
in the Ashmolean Museum.10
The Bonhams sculpture, however, exhibits features that also associate it with a
c. 7th-century Phakpa Lokesvara image in Lhasa, perhaps once the tutelary deity of early
Buddhist king Songtsen Gampo (d. c. 649 CE).11 Ian Alsop has shown that this image,
legendarily brought to Tibet from Nepal by Songtsen Gampo, became a sacred icon enshrined
in the Phakpa Lokesvara chapel of the Potala. The original c. 7th-century sculpture bears a
striking resemblance to the Bonhams Bodhisattva, though it is made of wood, and wears
no jewelry aside from the crown.12 The elements that link the two include the basic pose and
hand placements; the three-leaved crown featuring a standing Buddha in the central leaf; and
the hair arranged in an unusual chignon consisting of three sections, the two sides forming
large lobes. Alsop has further established that dozens of sculptures exhibiting this unique
constellation of features were made as replicas of the original Phakpa Lokesvara icon.
The time and circumstances of the commissions are not known, but most were presumably
made in Tibet, in wood (like the original icon) or in metal and ivory.
What is remarkable about the Bonhams sculpture is that, while it shares some unusual
elements with the original Phakpa Lokesvara, it is not a later replica, but coeval with the
original.13 Some elements of style in the Bonhams Bodhisattva are found in other
c. 7th-8th-century Nepalese sculpture, such as the rope-like armbands worn high on the
upper arms, the necklace, and the treatment of the dhoti with distinctive pattern of flutters,
as seen in a c. 7th-century Vajrapani in the Kronos Collections, New York.14
Forged by ancient commercial ties, Nepal and Tibet were closely allied in the 7th century.
Tibetans prized Newar craftsmen. Tibet’s most sacred temple, the Lhasa Jokhang, was built
with the help of Newar artists in the 7th century. Superb c. 7th-century woodcarvings created
by Newar Licchavi artists can still be seen in situ, and they too provide relevant comparisons
for the two Bonhams sculptures.
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