Sacred artefacts from reputable Belgian Collector to glimmer in second Paris sale

During this fall, a variety of Buddhist relics will feature in the second part of Claude de Marteau Collection Sale at Bonhams Paris.

A gilt copper alloy figure of Akshobyavajra Guhyasamaja from 15th-century Tibet will be the leading lot. De Marteau, a reputable Belgian art dealer and connoisseur during the 20th century, possessed a wide collection created over a period of 1,500 years and from across Asia.

On 14 June, the first part took place. The distinguished Guimet Museum exercised its pre-emption right and added a Ganesha stele into its Collection. Then, on 4 October, the second sale will be held.

A gilt copper alloy figure of Akshobyavajra Guhyasamaja from 15th-century Tibet leads the sale

Claude de Marteau

Buddha Offering Protection sculpture (6th-7th century CE), India | The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

As a young man, de Marteau stumbled upon Hindu and Buddhist art – which was to become his lifelong passion while he was on an extended trip through the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. A collection accumulated throughout 50 years, he became a distinguished art dealer of Tibetan, Nepalese, Indian and Southeast Asian art.

In 1969, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York acquired an ancient Indian Buddha Offering Protection sculpture from his Collection. Originating from an illustrious era of Buddhist art, this sculpture is one of the most iconic pieces in the Museum. Prominent art collector, John D. Rockefeller III, also obtained a sculpture from de Marteau – a famous Shiva as Lord of Dance sculpture. It was later part of the Asia Society, New York Collection.

In 1973, an exquisite, ancient Greco-Buddhist stele with five figures appeared in the Oriental Art magazine, where enthusiastic scholastic debate surrounding the chronology and interpretations of Gandharan inscriptions quickly ensued. Then, in 2020, this artwork fetched US$6.6 million dollars at Christie's New York – which set an auction record for a Gandharan artwork.

Lot 20 | Gilt Copper Alloy Figure of Akshobyavajra Guhyasamaja | Tibet

Created during the 15th century
Height: 51.5 cm

  • With Claude de Marteau, Brussels, by 1970s

Estimate upon request (Expected to fetch HK$25 million, around €3.1 million)

This large, complex sculpture depicts Akshobhyavajra Guhyasamaja – its teaching tools central to enlightenment in Tibetan Buddhism. Two beings – male and female – combine into one another in an intimate embrace symbolising the transcendent state of Buddhahood.

Measuring 51.5 centimetres tall, this gilt bronze is among the grandest sculptural commissions of Guhyasamaja – or any composite deity – from Tibet ever to appear on the market. Representing a subject connected with the religious instruction of 14th-century Tibetan Buddhist Master, Je Tsongkhapa, this sculpture is also produced in a style synonymous with the Tibetan Renaissance he inspired.

During the 15th century, the Ganden Renaissance bore this sculptural masterpiece. It was also this period that the Gelug order's founder, Tsongkhapa, renewed and reinvigorated Tibetan Buddhism – which sparked a surge in religious, artistic and literary activity. Support came through cooperation and competition amongst the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as through patronage from Tibetan kings and Chinese emperors.

Many of Central Tibet's most important monasteries were founded during this period, with innovative feats of Buddhist painting and sculpture installed within them – such as Ganden (1410), Gyantse Pelkor Chode (1418) and Ngor (1429). Not limited to Central Tibet, the Ganden Renaissance encompassed further into both East and West Tibet. The assembling of artists from all over the Himalayas to create exquisite commissions resulted in the integration of influences from neighbouring artistic traditions, and Tibetan art reaching its full maturity.

Lot 17 | Gilt Copper Alloy Figure of Kapaladhara Hevajra | China

Created during the Ming dynasty, 15th century
Height: 28 cm

  • With Claude de Marteau, Brussels, by 1970s

Estimate: €500,000 – 700,000

This sixteen-armed sculpture holds in each of his hands a skull cup with eight animals representing the Eight Diseases on one side, and eight Buddha-like deities representing the corresponding cures on the other. He holds his consort, Nairatmya, in his principal pair of arms, while her right leg is wrapped around his waist as they embrace one another. Apart from bestowing good health and prosperity to practitioners, these meditational deities (yidams) quell ignorance – manifested as four Hindu deities – two of which kneel behind the supreme couple.

Powerfully rendered, this piece follows in the early Ming dynasty's imperial sponsorship of Tibetan Buddhism. Considered as the most generous Buddhist art patron amongst the Ming rulers, the Yongle emperor (1403-1425) sought to re-establish the priest-disciple relationship introduced by the Mongol khans of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), and legitimise his rule as their spiritual heir.

Part of this initiative involved the creation of small, portable bronzes in an accomplished Tibeto-Chinese style, which were either received by visiting religious envoys or sent to Tibetan monasteries as diplomatic gifts. However, the practice of exchanging images between Tibet and China diminished under the Xuande emperor (1426-1435), as fewer number of bronzes produced during his reign were mainly intended as objects of worship in Chinese temples.

Lot 36 | Gilt Copper Alloy Figure of Chakrasamvara | Tibet

Created during the 17th century
Height: 29 cm

  • With Claude de Marteau, Brussels, by 1970s

Estimate: €200,000 – 300,000

This figure depicts the meditational deity, Chakrasamvara ('Wheel of Bliss'), comprised of male and female enlightened beings depicted in an intimate embrace.

Visualised as gendered embodiments of perfected wisdom (female) and compassion (male) merging into an interpenetrative union, youthful Vajravarahi leaps onto Samvara, wrapping her thighs around his waist. He pulls her in close, returning her a heartfelt gaze. With the same primary arms he uses to cradle her, Samvara crosses the vajra (diamond and thunderbolt ritual object) and ghanta (bell) in his characteristic gesture (vajrahumkara).

In service of Tibetan patrons, the Newari master artist meticulously delineated each attribute held in Samvara’s twelve hands – including a disembodied head with long strands of hair and a loosely gathered lasso. A criss-cross bone apron filled with inset turquoise covers Vajravarahi's rear, leading the eye below to the thickly gilded garlands of expressive skulls and severed heads. A towering mandorla adorns the composition, while a beaded lotus base with long, supple petals support the Hindu gods – Bhairava and Kalaratri – subdued underfoot by Chakrasamvara's supremacy.

Other highlight lots:

Lot 11 | Gilt Copper Alloy Figure of Vajravidarana | Tibet

Created during the 14th century
Height: 26.8 cm

  • With Claude de Marteau, Brussels, by 1970s

Estimate: €100,000 – 150,000 

Lot 9 | Gilt Copper Alloy Figure of Panjaranata Mahakala | Tibet

Created during the 14th century
Height: 16 cm

  • With Claude de Marteau, Brussels, by 1970s

Estimate: €100,000 – 150,000 

Lot 34 | Gilt Copper Alloy Vajramudgara (Ritual Hammer) | China

Created during the 17th century
Height: 30.9 cm

  • With Claude de Marteau, Brussels, by 1970s

Estimate: €50,000 – 70,000

Lot 42 | Thangka of Kurukulla | China

Created during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), 18th century
57 x 42 cm

  • With Claude de Marteau, Brussels, by 1970s

Estimate: €40,000 – 60,000

Lot 26 | Silver Inlaid Brass Alloy Figure of a Lama | Tibet

Created during the 16th century
Height: 17 cm

  • With Claude de Marteau, Brussels, by 1970s

Estimate: €15,000 – 20,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Bonhams Paris
Sale: Claude de Marteau Collection, Part II
Date and Time: 4 October 2022 | 2pm (Paris local time)
Number of lots: 56