Sotheby’s Asia Week Fall 2019: Highlights from Bodies of Infinite Light Including Buddhist Figures from the Chang Foundation

Sotheby’s New York presents Bodies of Infinite Light, an auction of Buddhist art spanning the Northern and Southern dynasties to the Qing dynasty, which will take place on 10 September. Highlights of the sale include a polychrome wood figure of Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara from the Xuande period, an embroidered silk Qing dynasty thangka of Ekadashamukha Avalokiteshvara, and rare bronzes from the Dali Kingdom.

The sale also offers twenty sculptures formerly in the Chang Foundation Collection, a renowned museum collection in Taipei. The group of twenty sculptures will be led by a gilt-bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara, 17th century. Here are some of the highlights of the sale. Let’s take a look.

A polychrome wood figure of Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara from the Xuande period

The X-ray photography reveals that the hollow interior of the statue is filled with consecratory material

A gilt, polychrome wood and gesso figure of Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara and consort, Xuande period, measuring 22cm in height, is expected to fetch US$1m-1.5m. The iconography of this rare Chinese gilt-wood sculpture of Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara is drawn from the Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist pantheon and represents an emanation of the popular bodhisattva as a meditational deity in union with his consort.

The design of the bracelet and upper arm band is composed of multiple beaded bands supporting jeweled elements. The figure features the full face and narrowed eyes, the tight hair curls on the forehead below the crown band, and locks of hair falling to the shoulders in thick curling tresses. The bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara has his principal hands held together before his chest in anjali mudra and his secondary hands at shoulder level, once holding mala and padma, with the padma stem remaining in the proper left hand.

A Xuande Mark and Period Gilt-Bronze Figure of Amitayus, sold in these rooms, 25th March 1999, lot 121.

The specific style and composition of the pedestal correspond to the Xuande Amitayus that was in March 1999 with its plain raised foot beneath a recessed band of beading, an elaborate flourish on the tips of broad lotus petals with further tendrils at the sides, and the prominent row of beading along the upper edge. This distinct pedestal design appears in both the Yongle and Xuande periods on larger scale sculptures only.

There are few surviving sculptures of Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara from either Tibet or China. According to the auction house, it is believed that there is only one other recorded example besides the present one. It is a Yongle gilt-bronze sculpture which formerly on loan to the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam.

An early Ming dynasty wood figure of Amitayas and consort, Pacific Asia Museum

Besides, there are not many wood sculptures depicting Vajrayana Buddhist deities have survived from the early Ming dynasty. A similar example to the present one is a figure of Amitayus and consort in the Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena. The statue is the same height and style as the Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara and is almost certainly from the same series. And like the Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara, the Pacific Asia Museum sculpture is a rare form of a popular deity depicted in unison with his consort. The two statues are likely to have been part of a larger series that, due to the esoteric nature of the deities, were probably placed in a chapel for private devotion and meditation rather than for public display.

A gilt-bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara, 17th century

Twenty Buddhist figures formerly in the collection of the Chang Foundation will also be offered at the sale. Founded by celebrated collector Zhang Tiange, The Chang Foundation Museum is a renowned museum in Taipei showcasing ancient Chinese art pieces from various collections of the Chang family. Items in the museum are divided into four main categories: ceramics, Buddhist sculptures, paintings and Chinese works of art.

One notable item from the collection is the Ru-ware brushwasher that fetched HK$294m (US$37.7m), a record price for the world’s most expensive ceramic.

Measuring 41cm high, this figure of Avalokiteshvara is seated in dhayasana on a double-lotus base with the right hand raised holding a willow branch or lotus stem (now missing), the left hand in the lap turned upwards supporting a beaker, representing purity and healing respectively.

The deity is cast here in a sinicized style, evident through the rounded fleshy face, feminine features, fuller figure, and cowl draped over the tall chignon. This form of representation developed in the mid to late Ming dynasty and continued into the early Qing, before gilt-bronzes generally adopted a more Tibeto-Chinese manner. This lot carries an estimate of US$200,000-300,000.

An embroidered silk thangka depicting Ekadashamukha Avalokiteshvara, Qing dynasty, Kangxi period

This embroidered silk thangka depicting Ekadashamukha Avalokiteshvara measures 60.5cm by 40cm and is expected to fetch US$80,000-120,000. This emanation of Avalokiteshvara is said to have manifested after the bodhisattva observed the misery of the world and was so filled with compassion that his head split into ten pieces. His spiritual father Amitabha arranged the ten pieces into a pyramid and placed his own face on top.

Likely copied from or based on a painted Tibetan thangka, this piece reflects the development of the uniquely Tibeto-Chinese style that arose out of the synergy between the Qing court and Tibetan Buddhism. From the Yuan dynasty on, following the Chinese tradition of creating embroidered and kesi versions of scroll paintings, painted Tibetan Buddhist images were similarly replicated in luxurious textiles as gifts. The extraordinary value and the beauty of these lustrous, vibrant textiles made these 'copies' much more valuable than the painted 'originals.'

A silk embroidered thangka of Shakyamuni in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Kangxi period examples are rare in comparison with Qianlong examples, considering the number of related works dating to the Qianlong period. There is another example of embroidery featuring Eleven-headed bodhisattva Guanyin in the Metropolitan Museum. However, the simpler decorative elements, restrained landscape, and stark midnight-blue ground of the present thangka suggest the earlier date.

Featured highlights

A gilt-lacquer, polychrome wood and gesso figure of Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara and consort

Ming Dynasty, Xuande Period

Lot no.: 329
Height: 55.9cm

  • American Private Collection (by repute).
  • Collection of Stuart Perrin (b. 1942).
  • Arnold Lieberman, New York, until 1981.
  • Collection of Jeffrey Novick, until 1983.
  • Collection of Douglas Rosestone, until 1996.
  • Collection of Dr. Bruce Gordon, until 2004.
  • American Private Collection.
  • Sotheby's New York, 16th September 2008, lot 173.

Estimate: US$1,000,000 - 1,500,000

A gilt-bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara Padmapani

Yongle Mark and Period

Lot no.: 328
Height: 25cm

  • Christie's New York, 23rd March 1999, lot 126.

Estimate: US$500,000 - 700,000

A large gilt-bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara, 17th Century

Lot no.: 314
Height: 41cm

  • Collection of Madame de Saint Victor.
  • Christie's New York, 31st March 1992, lot 976.
  • The Chang Foundation Collection.

Estimate: US$200,000 - 300,000

An embroidered silk thangka depicting Ekadashamukha Avalokiteshvara

Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Period

Lot no.: 327
Size: 60.5 x 40cm

  • Collection of Major-General of U.S. Army forces in China, William Durward Connor (1874-1960); acquired in Tianjin, 10th March, 1926.
  • Sloan's Art Galleries, Washington, D.C., 4th May 1962, lot 500.
  • Collection of U.S. Diplomat William M. Campbell (1938-2016), and thence by descent.

Estimate: US$80,000 - 120,000

Auction details

Auction house: Sotheby’s New York
Sale: Bodies of Infinite Light Featuring an Important Collection of Buddhist Figures Formerly in the Collection of the Chang Foundation
Sale: 10 September 2019|3pm