Displayed on the mantelpiece in Ellsworth’s living room, this open-armed sculpture of the Buddhist God of compassion appeared to welcome guests to the apartment.
‘Undoubtedly one his most prized possessions,’ says Leiko Coyle, ‘it was positioned to encourage discussion.
‘Despite its imposing height’ says Coyle, ‘it radiates a sense of kindness and approachability. It’s a stunning work of art, and an embodiment of Buddhist qualities of compassion, kindness and gentleness.’
‘This piece was placed on Mr Ellsworth’s headboard, right above where he slept,’ says Coyle. Made in Tibet, the early sculpture represents an Indian mystic thought to be Padampa Sangye: ‘A teacher and sage known for his wisdom, meditation practice, and mastery of yoga.’
The work was so cherished in the Ellsworth household that when it was temporarily removed for study in the 1980s, the housekeeper threatened to resign in a bid to secure its swift return.
Taken from the Sanskrit for both thunderbolt and diamond, this vajra was given to Mr Ellsworth by a friend who ran his own spiritual practice in New York.
‘When Ellsworth’s friend was able to get in touch with him,’ says Coyle, ‘he rang his housekeeper, who informed him the collector had taken ill. His friend sent this piece from his personal shrine, instructing Ellsworth to sleep with it beneath his pillow.’
In two weeks, Ellsworth had made a miraculous recovery, and the piece remained over his bed — beneath the Indian mystic – from then on.
Representing the Maitreya — or future Buddha — the work’s rich colour is typical of pieces from the region: ‘One of the qualities of Nepalese bronze work is a high copper content, resulting in a chocolaty-red patina,’ explains Leiko Coyle.
Originally covered in a heavy layer of gold, this patina has gradually re-emerged over time. ‘This “revelation” was not the maker’s intention,’ Coyle explains, ‘but a thousand years later, it’s what we appreciate — it’s not what it was then, but what it is now that has become beautiful.
‘This piece was displayed in the living room of Ellsworth’s apartment, in a spot guests would have passed on their way to dinner,’ she adds.
Superbly cast, this detailed statue represents the Hindu deity Shiva. ‘In Hindu tradition, those who viewed the deity would receive a blessing, or darshan,’ Coyle says.
Ellsworth’s apartment was accessed directly from the building’s elevator. ‘This sculpture remained in the same place for years, directly opposite the elevator doors, bestowing a blessing on everyone who entered.’