This strikingly beautiful figure of Avalokiteshvara was first brought to light by Stella Kramrisch in 1964 in her book, The Art of Nepal, New York, 1964, p. 85, no. 51. It has since been variously identified by scholars due to its unique iconography as Lokeshvara by Kramrisch; Bodhisattva Lokeshvara (?) by Nancy Tingley in Celestial Realms, Sacramento, 2012, pp 68-69, no. 16; and possibly Shadakshari Lokeshvara by Jane Casey in her essay for Bonhams New York, 16 March 2015, lot 5. The figure stands in a graceful tribhanga posture, with the hips swayed to the left and the shoulders to the right. His principle hands are held in the gesture of adoration, anjalimudra, in front of his chest, and the upper hands are held raised with the index fingers touching the thumbs. In the proper left upper hand, there are the remains of a prong, indicating that something was possibly held in this hand, and at either side of the feet, there are tiny socles from which the separately-cast stems, now missing, of the lotus blossoms at both shoulders may have emerged. The bulb of the proper left lotus is now missing, but could have possibly held an identifying attribute or simply mirrored the bulb of the lotus at the proper right shoulder. The proper left lotus is also conspicuous in that it is angled upwards, while the proper right faces forwards.
In her tentative attribution of Shadakshari Lokeshvara, Jane Casey notes the obvious discrepancies from typical representations of that particular form of Avalokiteshvara: Shadakshari Lokeshvara is usually depicted seated in padmasana, rather than standing, and is typically depicted holding a lotus and a mala (rosary) in the upper two hands. Furthermore, the two lotus blossoms at the shoulders in the present work are not typically found in images of Shadakshari Lokeshvara. Casey suggests the traditional representation of Shadakshari Lokeshvara was perhaps modified for a particular circumstance, such as the patron’s personal request. Indeed, Ulrich von Schroeder illustrates a standing form of Shadakshari Lokeshvara in Nepalese Stone Sculptures, vol. II Buddhist, Hong Kong, 2019, p. 1051, fig. 336F; he notes that the traditional seated iconography was likely modified to a standing posture to match that of a nearby standing Manjushri image. It is possible the iconography of the present figure was modified to be compatible with related images, or was simply the personal taste of the patron; such variation, and flexibility, is a trademark characteristic of Nepalese art.
While originally dated to the sixteenth century, and presumably attributed to the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley by Stella Kramrisch in 1964, Jane Casey in 2015 was the first to suggest the origins of this oft-published figure stem from the Khasa Malla kingdom in the thirteenth to fourteenth century. Comparatively speaking, little is known about the Khasa Malla Kingdom aside from their artistic patronage and their occasional raids of the Kathmandu Valley. The consensus among scholars is that this devoutly Buddhist Kingdom was born from a tribe led into the Karnali Basin (in what is now Western Nepal) by their first king, Nagaraja in the twelfth century, and that the kings who succeeded him maintained a positive relationship with the Western Tibetan subjects under his control, as evidenced by gifts to Tibetan temples.
Scholarship on this very distinct style of sculpture perhaps began with independent scholar Ian Alsop’s article, “Metal Sculpture of the Khasa Malla Kingdom” published in the Asian Art periodical, Orientations, June 1994, Volume 25, Number 6 and the expanded version he published on asianart.com in August of 2005. Therein, Alsop describes the style as “a clear adaptation of Kathmandu Valley style” distinguished by its redesigned ornamentation, petite yet weighty physiognomy, and extravagant gilding. These are the defining elements of Khasa Malla Kingdom sculpture.
Regarding the present work, Jane Casey notes the clearly defined joints on the fingers as a characteristic common to Khasa Malla sculpture; such articulation in the joints is also found in the silver figure of Samvara illustrated by Ian Alsop in ibid., fig. 4, and also in a Khasa Malla gilt-copper figure of Vajravarahi sold at Christie’s New York, 20 March 2019, lot 601. Casey also notes the relatively unfinished nature of the back of the figure, particularly at the back of the chignon, which is typically seen in bronzes from the Khasa Malla kingdom. The present figure also bears remains of red pigments at the back of the lotus blossoms and the pendent sashes at either side of the legs, which is commonly found on sculptures from Khasa Malla; see, for example, the gilt-copper figure of Prajnaparamita from the Pritzker Collection, illustrated by Ian Alsop in ibid., fig. 10, or a gilt-copper figure of Vajrapani in the collection of the Rubin Museum, illustrated by Gautama Vajracharya, Nepalese Seasons: Rain and Ritual, New York, 2016, cat. no. 18, both of which have extensive remains of red pigments in the recessed areas of the lotus base. The present figure is also adorned with low-slung anklets not commonly found on Newari images of bodhisattvas, but which are closely related to the Khasa Malla figure of Padmapani Lokeshvara from the collection of Claire Ritter, illustrated by Alsop in ibid., fig. 7.
The consecration chambers at the back of the figure are also uncommon among Newari gilt-copper images. The three rectangular openings, at the back of the head, between the shoulder blades, and at the lower back, are all filled with irregular coverings; the one at the back of the head, for instance, is ungilt, while the one between the shoulder blades has an unusual Y-shaped textile hem motif. The one at the lower back has deep pitting, suggesting it may have been hammered into place. Whether the consecration chambers are original to the casting or added later (possible if the image was later worshipped in Tibet, which would explain the blue pigment in the hair), is unclear. Consecration chambers are, however, more commonly found in sculptures from the Khasa Malla kingdom; see, for example, a Khasa Malla gilt-copper figure of Shadakshari Lokeshvara from the collection of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, illustrated by Nancy Tingley in Celestial Realms: The Art of Nepal, Sacramento, 2012, pp. 63-64, cat. no. 13B.