A rare and important silver-inlaid gilt bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara
A rare and important silver-inlaid gilt bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara


A rare and important silver-inlaid gilt bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara
Northeastern India or Western Tibet, Pala period, 10th/11th century
Sensuously modeled with his right hand in varadamudra and his left holding a lotus stem, dressed in a diaphanous cascading dhoti secured with a patterned belt, adorned in various gilt and silver jewelry, the face with bow-shaped lips and heavy-lidded eyes inlaid with silver, centered by a silver urna, the hair in a high chignon and locks cascading over the shoulders, secured by a silver foliate tiara
23 in. (58.4 cm.) high
Private Collection, Europe, early 1980s
Doris Wiener Gallery, New York, 1999

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Lot Essay

Like Gandhara in the 3rd and 4th centuries, the regions of Bihar and Bengal in Northeastern India were thriving Buddhist centers in the medieval period. The 9th century founder of the Pala dynasty, Gopala and his successor, Dharmapala, were ardent patrons of Buddhism, bestowing munificence upon the numerous monasteries, universities, and other Buddhist communities within their territory. Among some of the most important sites were Nalanda University, which drew students of the faith from all across Asia, and the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, site of the Buddha's Enlightenment and perhaps the most important Buddhist pilgrimage site of the period.

Among the diverse group of foreign adherents in this region at the time were a large group of Tibetan scholars and pilgrims, hungry to learn about developments in Vajrayana and Tantrayana Buddhism that were being fermented in the religious communities of the region. In contrast to the "first diffusion" of Buddhism into Tibet, which was largely influenced by the region of Kashmir, the Phyi dar, the "second diffusion" beginning in the 9th century was marked by a wave of Buddhist ideas, objects, and people traveled back from Northeastern India to Tibet.

Alongside the infusion of Pala-style bronzes into Tibet, there was also a stream of Indian metalworkers who flocked into the mountain kingdom to satiate the demand for religious icons. Furthermore, Tibetan metalworkers began to imitate Pala styles, making the identification of the origin of extant bronzes in Tibet extremely difficult. However, the 1202 CE Muslim invasions of Northeastern India and subsequent destruction of nearly every Buddhist center in the region mean that by the end of the 12th century, all production of Buddhist icons had ceased. While some of the stylistic details and distinctly Indian facial features suggest this work was cast in Pala territory, the large muscular torso and silver and copper inlay are indications of a Kashmiri influence.

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