Standing frontally in a regal and elegant posture, this figure of Avalokiteshvara is a superb example of the refined stylistic achievement of Pre-Angkorian bronze sculpture. The figure displays the authority and courtly elegance of classical Indian sculpture infused with the grace and sense of gravitas particular to the region in which it was produced. With a remarkably slender waist, slightly arched lower back, and the characteristic looped and piled coiffure of early Thai and Cambodian sculpture, the figure exhibits highly localized features rendered with the utmost grace. The face is calm and dignified with the sensuously bowed lips, broad eyes, ridged brow, and unmistakable air of mystery that would become the hallmark of Khmer art during the Angkor period. The clasp of the chain-like belt around the waist carries a rosette design also seen in Angkor sculpture and architectural relief carvings. The ankle-length sampot, pulled flush against the waist, accentuates the figure’s graceful contour and anticipates later stylistic introductions. He is identified as Avalokiteshvara by the diminutive figure of the celestial Buddha Amitabha worn in his headdress, as well as by his plaited locks, which are associated with asceticism.
From the early historic period, maritime trade routes have woven India and Southeast Asia together in an advanced network of social, cultural, and commercial interrelationships. Transmitted across this network, the Mahayana school of Buddhism gained prominence in Southeast Asia. With an expanded pantheon of deities, Mahayana representations often include trios with the Buddha Shakyamuni (see lot 29) accompanied by the bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Maitreya (see lot 1067). However, Avalokiteshvara also accrued his own individual cult of worship, especially in his capacity as the Protector of Mariners. Portable figures of this bodhisattva could easily be transported along the maritime trade routes connecting India with Southeast Asia and regions farther East. Shrines dedicated to Avalokiteshvara are particularly prominent in areas with sea ports. Large in scale and expertly crafted, this figure of Avalokiteshvara represents the vast distances merchants, priests, and expert craftsmen travelled, and the artistic legacy that bears their trace.
This particular sculpture was included in a distinguished group of three Southeast Asian bronzes that sat on the corner of Mr. Ellsworth’s desk (see lots 29 and 1067). When compared together, they created a dialogue between the various styles of the region, continually refining his eye for these artworks. Mr. Ellsworth would also have been reminded of his introduction to the art of the region by his mentor and close friend, Connie Mangskau, with whom he shared a passion for the sculpture of Southeast Asia.