The present gilt-bronze figure of Vairocana is an exceptional example of its type, exhibiting superb casting and fine attention to detail, especially in the hems of the robes and the tiered crown. 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 abhisheka mudra displayed by the present figure is one that is specifically associated with this particular deity, along with the dharmadhatu and dharmachakra mudras. Unlike other Buddhas, Vairocana is often depicted with an elaborate five-tiered crown, and in the case of the present figure, the crown is elaborately and finely cast in rich detail. This is a further testament to the fact that the present figure would likely have been an important commission, and a highly valued and cherished bronze even at the time of manufacture. The present Vairocana would probably have been commissioned by or gifted to an important temple, where it would have formed part of a prestigious group.
Exceptionally well-cast and large gilt-bronze Buddhist bronzes such as the present Vairocana are extremely rare. However, a comparable example of impressively large size is in the Royal Ontario Museum (no. 921.31.30). The Ontario figure and the present example belong to a small group of Buddhist gilt-bronze images dating to the middle Ming dynasty, which were influenced by both Chinese and Tibetan tantric elements. The hands in abhiseka mudra are not commonly seen on Tibetan incarnations of Vairocana, although this is commonly seen in Chinese representations of the deity.
Three related figures of Vairocana, adorned with a similarly elaborate crown and cast with hands in abhisekha mudra have been sold at auction; the first in our Hong Kong rooms, 1 May 2000, lot 757; the second at Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 25 April 2004, lot 333; and the third in our Hong Kong rooms, 1 June 2011, lot 3770. However, the casting of the features on the present figure, and the details on the hems of the robes, seem to be more finely rendered than those of the previously sold examples.