Buddhism was the state religion of the Qing dynasty, and the Qianlong Emperor, much like his predecessors Yongzheng and Kangxi, was a devout practitioner of the faith and partly responsible for its strong growth during the 18th century. Of particular interest to the Qianlong Emperor was Tibetan Buddhism, and perhaps the pinnacle of his Tibetan Buddhist activities came in 1780, the year in which he celebrated his 70th birthday, when the Panchen Lama came to both Jehol and Beijing, and bestowed upon the emperor the Mahakala and Cakrasamvara initiations. The rituals for these coincided with his birthday and indicated that Qianlong had formally 'entered the Buddhist realm.' Qianlong's powerful devotion to Buddhism was readily carried over into works of art made during his reign, as is evident in the present gilt-wood figure of Vairocana.
Vairocana is considered to be the Great Solar Buddha of Light and Truth, and is the Bliss Body of the historical Buddha in Buddhist Law. Vairocana is also considered one of the Five Dhyani Buddhas, also known as the Five Wisdom Tathagatas, which are representations of the five qualities of the Buddha. The dharmachakra mudra displayed by the present figure is one that is associated with this particular deity, along with the dharmadhatu and abhisekha mudras. For further manifestations of this deity, refer to lots 1367 and 1383 in the present sale.