It was not until the American scholar Helen Chapin identified a group of bronzes in western collections as being of Yunnanese origin, based on a scroll painting known as the Long Scroll of Buddhist Images by the 12th century Yunnanese artist Zhang Shengwen, which she published in 1944, that the origin of these distinctive Dali or Yunnanese bronzes was first realized. In the late 1970s restoration work at the Qianxun Pagoda, Yunnan province, uncovered a reliquary deposit which included a gold standing Guanyin similar in style to those bronzes in the West and to the present figure. The gold figure with its silver mandorla is illustrated by A. Lutz, 'Buddhist Art in Yunnan', Orientations, February 1992, p. 49, fig. 6. The article goes on to identify the figure as 'Acuoye Guanyin' (Ajaya Avalokitesvara: All Victorious Guanyin), who according to legend was an Indian monk who visited Yunnan in the seventh century as an incarnation of Guanyin.
In the catalogue entry for a similar, but smaller, figure in the British Museum included in the exhibition, Buddhism: Art and Faith, British Museum, 1985, p. 206, no. 297, W. Zwalf states that these figures were made for the Dali court, appearing to have been made as talismans for the royal family.
A similar bronze in the San Diego Museum bears an inscription ascribing it a Yunnanese provenance and a date between 1147 and 1172. See H. Chapin, 'Yunnanese Images of Avalokitesvara', Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 8 (1944-5), pp. 131-186, pls. 3, 4, 5 and 6. Compare, also, the equally fine figure included in the exhibition, Treasures from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, China House Gallery, New York, 24 October-25 November 1979, no. 22; and two others from the Musée Guimet and the Freer Gallery of Art illustrated by H. Munsterberg, Chinese Buddhist Bronzes, Vermont and Japan, 1967, pls. 58 and 59 respectively. Both Chapin and Munsterberg discuss the Indian influences visible in these figures: the bare chest, slender body, tight-fitting skirt and conical hair treatment. Lutz also, op. cit., p. 48, refers to these bronzes as the "only sculptural form in Yunnan whose origins can be traced back to Southeast Asia".
Other figures of this group have also been published: one in the Brooklyn Museum illustrated on the cover and inside the brochure for the Asian Art Council; one (missing its forearms) in the Victoria and Albert Museum, illustrated by R. Kerr, Chinese Art and Design: Art Objects in Ritual and Daily Life, Woodstock, New York, 1991, no. 37; one in the Sumitomo Collection illustrated by S. Umehara, Shin-Shu Sen-Oku Sei-Sho, Kyoto, 1971, p. 180, no. 255; one in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco illustrated in Chinese, Korean and Japanese Sculptures in the Avery Brundage Collection, Japan, 1974, pl. 140; one in the National Palace Museum, illustrated in the catalogue, A Special Exhibition of Recently Acquired Gilt-Bronze Buddhist Images, Taipei, 1996, no. 15; and one in the Yunnan Provincial Museum, included in the exhibition, Gems of China's Cultural Relics, Beijing, 1990, no. 160.
See, also, the very similar gilt-bronze figure of slightly smaller size sold in these rooms, 20 September 2002, lot 193 (fig. 1). The figure was displayed on a later wood stand with an inscription stating that the figure was from Dafou temple, in the Fen state of Shaanxi province. A second gilt-bronze example, although shown seated with one leg pendent in ardhaparyankasana, was sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 26 April 1998, lot 606 (fig. 2).