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A RARE AND VERY FINELY CAST GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF MANJUSHRI
PROPERTY FROM A NEW YORK PRIVATE COLLECTION
A RARE AND VERY FINELY CAST GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF MANJUSHRI

KANGXI PERIOD (1662-1722)

Details
A RARE AND VERY FINELY CAST GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF MANJUSHRI
KANGXI PERIOD (1662-1722)
The finely cast figure is seated in dhyanasana on a jeweled double lotus pedestal base, with hands held in dharmachakra mudra, the gesture of teaching, while holding slender stems of lotus flowers that rise to the shoulders where one supports a sword, the other a book. He wears an incised dhoti tied at the waist, beaded jewelry, pendent earrings and a jeweled five-point crown that surrounds a topknot. A copper plate on the base is engraved with a double vajra with a yinyang symbol in the center.
8 7/8 in. (22.5 cm.) high
Provenance
S. Marchant and Son, London.
Literature
S. Marchant & Son, Recent Acquisitions, 2007, pp. 148-49, no. 76.

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Lot Essay

This beautiful and serene figure is both a reflection of the religious beliefs of the early Qing emperors and a reminder of the political importance of Tibetan Buddhism (Lamaism) during this period. Since the Qing dynasty was one in which China was ruled by foreigners, the Manchus, the emperors had, on the one hand, to prove to their Chinese subjects that they held the Mandate of Heaven to rule, while, at the same time, dealing with China's frequently aggressive neighbors to the north and west. Much of the Manchus' success came from military supremacy, but, in the late 17th and 18th centuries, diplomacy was also employed to achieve the same ends. This was cemented by marriages between Manchus and the Mongol tribes: indeed the Kangxi emperor's grandmother was a Mongol princess. The Manchus, like the Mongols, converted to Tibetan Buddhism. In 1642 the Mongol leader Gui Khan had made the Fifth Dalai Lama the secular as well as the religious ruler of Tibet. The Qing court's relationships with the Mongols and Tibet were therefore inexorably intertwined, and remained so even after the Kangxi emperor's assumption of a protectorate over Tibet.
The Qing emperors portrayed themselves as bodhisattva-rulers, reincarnations of Manjushri (the bodhisattva of Wisdom). In doing so, they united the Tibetan view of the ruler as a living incarnation of a god with the Chinese Manjusri cult.

Although it is often said that the Qing dynasty emperors patronized Tibetan Buddhism simply for political reasons, this does not seem to have been the case with the Kangxi emperor. He was largely brought up by his grandmother, to whom he was devoted. As noted above, she was a Mongol princess, and was an adherent of Tibetan Buddhism. It is probably due to her influence that the Kangxi emperor was the first Qing emperor to demonstrate a personal religious commitment to Lamaism. The Kangxi emperor and his son and grandson, the Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors, built some thirty-two Tibetan Buddhist temples in the Beijing area alone.
The present depiction of Manjushri can be seen in an earlier Yongle- period gilt-bronze figure in the Berti Aschmann Foundation for Tibetan Art at the Reitberg Museum, Zurich, illustrated by H. Ulhig, On the Path to Enlightenment, Zurich, 1995, p. 118, no. 68. As the author notes, this representation of Manjushri is a departure from the more traditional examples where the figure holds the sword aloft. With the sword reduced to a short blade balanced by the book on the figure's left, this represents a shift in the iconography of the bodhisattva from a fighter of ignorance to a teacher in the fashion of the Buddha Shakyamuni.

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