Highlighted Buddhist Sculptures at Bonhams Hong Kong

Bonhams Hong Kong unveils the leading lot for its Images of Devotion Sale. Carrying an estimate of HK$15m-25m (US$1.92m-3.2m), the top lot is a Tibetan gilt copper alloy figure of Akshobyha from the 15th century. The bronze features an exquisite robe adorned with both inset and incised patterns.

Akshobyha is the Buddha of the East, one of the Five Wisdom Buddhas. The bronze depicts Akshobhya in a monastic patchwork robe with prominent stitched seams converted into the finest conceivable brocaded garment of floral scrolls and raised flowers, inset with semi-precious stones. The Five Wisdom Buddhas hold different mudras (ritual gestures) and Askhobyha performs the earth-touching gesture to transform from rage and anger to wisdom.

The Buddhist sculpture is 34 cm tall, without any base. The middle fingers and thumb of his left cup a humble ungilded alms bowl in his lap, perhaps to serve as a reminder of Buddhism’s renunciation of material wealth. The vajra secured in Akshobhya’s right hand is a symbol of ‘adamantine power’.

Carrying the second highest estimate, the Sonnery Kurkihar Buddha, copper alloy with silver and copper inlay, is 39 cm tall with base. The sculpture, estimated at 8m-12m, is from the medieval Pala Empire of Northeastern India in the 11th century. The right hand is in abhayamudra (gesture of fearlessness) and the other holds the inner hem of the cape-like robe. The delicate way it is held creates movement in the erect frontal image. The use of copper and silver inlay creates a compelling visual rhythm, directing the viewer’s gaze upward across the elegant silhouetted frame.

Pala Dynasty (8th-12th century) is the final peak of Buddhist art in India. Nalanda Monastery and Kurkihar were the two main sites of excavated Buddhist sculptures. In the 11th-12th century, Tibet had frequent cultural exchanges with India and was introduced to Indian sculptures, which later became the inspiration for early Tibetan Buddhist sculptures. Indicated by the remnants of a smoky black residue across its unexcavated patina, the Sonnery Kurkihar Buddha may have been one such high commission that travelled to Tibet during the Chidar.

The third sculpture is a gilt copper alloy figure of Vajravarahi from the 14th century, estimated at HKS$4.5m-5m (US$575,959 – 639,954), with a height of 38.5cm. Blending elegance and power, the robust goddess centres her weight effortlessly on flexed toes, with her signature sow’s head.

She dons a garland of rotund dried skulls. This feature is rarely seen on her solo dancing from, which typically has a string of freshly severed heads instead.


Highest-estimated Lots

A Gilt Copper Alloy Figure of Akshobyha. Tibet, 15th Century.

Lot no.: 22
Height: 34cm


  • European Private Collection, acquired in the early 1990s
  • Rossi & Rossi Ltd
  • American Private Collection, acquired from the above in 2012

Estimate: HK$15,000,000 - 25,000,000 (US$1,919,864 - 3,199,774)

The Sonnery Kurkihar Buddha Copper Alloy With Silver And Copper Inlay. Kurkihar, Pala Period, 11th Century.

Lot no.:16
Height: 39cm

  • Collection of Jean-Louis Melchior Sonnery de Fromental (1920-1995), acquired 1960s, by repute 
  • Private French Collection, acquired from the above, 1980s
  • Collection FKH, USA, acquired from the above, 2012

Estimate: HK$8,000,000 - 12,000,000 (US$1,023,927 - 1,535,891)

A Gilt Copper Alloy Figure of Vajravarahi. Central Tibet, Circa 14th Century.

Lot no.: 21
Height: 38.5cm
Provenance: Private Collection, Hong Kong, since 2000
Estimate: HK$4,500,000 - 5,000,000 (US$575,959 – 639,954)


Auction details

Auction house: Bonhams Hong Kong
Sale: Images of Devotion
Sale no.: 24028
No. of lots: 42
2017/9/28 - 10/2|10am - 7pm
2017/10/3|10am - 5pm
Auction: 2017/10/3|6pm