This fine wood image depicts the bodhisattva of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara, in a specific form known as Aryalokeshvara or 'Noble Lord of the World'. Actually he is better known under its Tibetan equivalent Phagpa Lokeshvara. This wood figure seems to be part of a long tradition of copying in this rather specific style. Many are known and have entered public and private collections all over the world. Others are still worshipped in temples in Tibet. Most examples are made in wood, just a few are known to be in bronze or ivory. Nevertheless they all share the same peculiar characteristics as described above. Still it seems often that the craftsmanship is far more recent than the clearly rather archaic, stylistic characteristics suggest. Many seem to have been copied after other replicas instead of being copies of probably the original image.
Recent research (Alsop, I., 'Phagpa Lokeshvara of the Potala' in Orientations, Hong Kong, April 1990, pp.51-61) has suggested that probably the original Phagpa Lokeshvara image, measuring circa one meter, is still worshipped in a chapel in the Potala palace in Lhasa. The chapel where the wood image is venerated is generally considered to be the oldest and most sacred of all Potala shrines. According to tradition this particular chapel existed already since the seventh century and was integrated in the construction of the later Potala building. The original construction was carried out under the seventh century Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. As this bodhisattva was the tutelary deity of the Songtsen Gampo it is not to be ruled out that this particular image could be well identical with the one associated with this king. Several fourteenth and fifteenth century texts confirm the association of king Songtsen Gampo with the bodhisattva Phagpa Lokeshvara.
The original wood sculpture could stylistically be work of a Newari artist. Interesting, no sculptures in this specific style seem to have survived from Nepal itself. As there seems to be slight different facial types found among the published group it is not to be excluded that another possible source could be the Northeast Indian Pala style, as suggested by Gilles Beguin. Some display indeed comparable defined faces with rather aquiline noses, like the presented lot.
This particular wood icon stands out from the known group, not only by its imposing size, but also by its rather natural and flowing style. As far known it is only matched in size and quality by an unpublished example presently in a private European collection.
For a smaller wood example see, G. Beguin, Art ésoterique de l'Himâlaya: la donation Lionel Fournier, Paris 1990, pl.5.