The image of Amitabha, the Buddha of the Western Paradise, in the crown of this magnificent figure identifies him as an incarnation of Avalokitesvara, the most venerated and benevolent of all bodhisattvas. The broad, corpulent figure is shown in princely guise, with long hair gathered up into a high chignon behind the crown and splendidly draped in sumptuous silk scarves and jewelry as befitting his regal heritage. The sensitive modeling, rounded forms and flowing drapery display a marked interest in movement and naturalism, which is a departure from the restraint and penchant for abstract form and line of earlier eras.
The mate to the present figure is in the Avery Brundage Collection, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The two figures are shown in mirror image, each with one arm raised to hold an offering. In Chinese, Korean and Japanese Sculpture, Japan, 1974, p. 262, Clarence Shangraw describes the offering held by the Brundage figure as a "six-lobed saucer containing an unidentified object that resembles a crystaline-like substance". In early publications, the Sackler figure is shown holding a similar offering, which is now missing. Both figures are shown wearing very similar garments and festoons of beaded chains. The Brundage figure, however, is shown with a scarf draped over the shoulders, and the crown on that figure has an outer band of flattened spirals which frame a cuspate tiara centered by an intricate chain ending with a jewel, which hangs pendent at the forehead. Shangraw notes, ibid, p. 262, that it has been suggested that the Brundage figure may represent Bixia Yuanjun (Primal Princess of the Azure Clouds).
In the past this pair of figures has been given various dates, ranging from the Sui period to the Song. However, the overall proportions, with elegantly tapering waist, broad but sloping shoulders, soft, rounded modeling and large oval head with crisp facial features are all characteristics of Liao and Jin sculpture of the 10th to 11th centuries. Compare, for example, the stucco figures in the Preservation of Sutras Hall, Lower Avatamsaka Temple (Xia Huayan Si), Datong, Shanxi province, dedicated in AD 1038, illustrated in Hua Yan Si, Beijing, 1980, pls. 39-59, and in particular pls. 60-65, which show bodhisattvas in poses similar to that of the Sackler and Brundage figures. A similar sense of graceful movement and soft, rounded modeling can also be seen on a smaller (44.5 cm. high) grey limestone figure of Guanyin, dated Liao or Jin dynasty, eleventh-twelfth century, illustrated by M. G. Neill in the exhibition catalogue, The Communion of Scholars, Chinese Art at Yale, China House Gallery, China Institute in America, New York, 1982, p. 57, no. 21.
The Sackler and Brundage figures also compare well stylistically to gilt-bronze bodhisattva figures of Liao date, such as two examples illustrated by S. Matsubara, Chuugoku bukkyo chokokushi ron (The Path of Buddhist Sculpture), vol. 3, Tang, Five Dynasties, Sung and Taoism Sculpture, Tokyo, 1995, pls. 800-a and 821-b.
Techinical Examination Report available upon request.