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A magnificent gilt-bronze standing figure of udayana buddha mark and

About the item

Standing with hands in abhaya and varada mudra, gestures of reassurance and bestowal of charity, his serene face with crisply portrayed features highlighted in gold, red and black pigment, his head with pronounced usnisa and covered with tightly curled whorls with traces of blue pigment, wearing a full length flowing robe draped elegantly from the shoulders and falling in long undulous folds with a concentric 'U'-shaped pattern at his chest, standing barefoot on a circular lotus pedestal, inscribed with the mark, Da Ming Yongle nian shi, base engraved with a visvavajra\nThis enchanting sculpture pays homage to an ancient Chinese iconographic tradition of depicting a Buddha standing with hands held in abhaya and varada mudra, with the outer garment covering both shoulders and falling to the ankles in stylised undulations. This iconographic format presented in what is described as Udayana style was used from at least the early fifth century in China to represent Maitreya; for a standing Buddha inscribed Maitreya and dated 443 see Denise Patry Leidy, ‘Notes on a Buddha Maitreya Sculpture Dated 486 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York’, Oriental Art, Winter, 2005-6, p. 28, fig. 12. The term Udayana refers to a legendary Indian sandalwood sculpture of Buddha, now lost but believed to have been brought to China in antiquity. The Udayana style, as it is known today, is ultimately derived from the Buddhist sculpture of ancient Gandhara from around the first century AD where Buddha images reflected Classical influence in their flowing robe, and the southern Kushan period development of the Gandhara robe style in third century Mathura sculpture; compare with the stylised robes of a seated Buddha in the Cleveland Museum of Art, see Czuma, Kushan Sculpture: Images from Early India, Cleveland, 1985, p. 72, cat. no. 16. This style of Indian Buddhist sculpture where robes are depicted with pronounced folds was common throughout the region and readily accessible to Chinese pilgrims and travellers such as Fa-hsien who is known to have visited the area sometime around the beginning of the fifth century. Indian Buddhist teachers also travelled east, and the sculptural trend thus found its way to China. Testimony to this migration of style is seen in the renowned gilt bronze Udayana style Buddha in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, dated 486 and identified by inscription as Maitreya, where the Buddha’s hands are held in abhaya and varada mudra, with the robe falling from the shoulders in stylised undulations, Leidy, op. cit. p. 22, fig. 1, more or less faithfully mirrored in this Yongle depiction of a standing Buddha. The traditions surrounding sculpture such as this massive fifth century bronze Maitreya were clearly known to the artists of the Yongle period, and although their interpretation is itself stylised, the intent in depicting a Buddha standing with undulating robes and the same hand gestures as fifth century images of standing Maitreya is to pay homage to the earlier period of Buddhist fervour and the icons with which it was associated. Yongle sculptors in turn paid homage to mediaeval eastern Indian bronzes in the construction of gilt bronze lotus mandalas that are virtually identical in concept to eleventh or twelfth century Pala examples, see von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Hong Kong, 2001, p. 307, pl. 104C for the Pala example, and pp. 1262-67, pls. 349B-51B for the Yongle examples. This archaistic phenomenon is repeated in the next sustained period of Chinese Buddhist patronage in the Qianlong period, where the Udayana style is again favoured and early sculpture from India, greater Kashmir and Nepal is much revered and interpreted. The Buddha figure stands on a lotus flower emerging from swirling waters running within rows of rounded pearls; see the water design on the pedestal of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Yongle Virupa, see Rhie and Thurman, Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet, London, 1996, p. 444, cat. no. 197. The pedestal and the Buddha are separately cast: both the figure and the lotus base are individually consecrated, with the sanctified material sealed within the Buddha by a small plug in the middle of the back, and the lotus pedestal sealed with a red painted copper alloy plate engraved with a visvavajra which is held in place by four evenly spaced and precise chisel cuts to the underside of the lower rim.  The Buddha’s shimmering robes, a perfectly circular lotus pedestal, the seamless covering of gold and a sublime countenance make for remarkable harmony and mesmerising effect in this unique gilt bronze masterpiece from the imperial workshops of the Yongle court.


The figure is in excellent condition and the original gilding is unusually thick and brilliant. The face of the figure retains in most places the layer of lacquer from its consecration, although with a couple of flakes that are visible in the catalogue illustration showing the pristine gilding beneath. "In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."


19 cm., 7 1/2  in.


Charles F. Chicarelli, Buddhist Art: An Illustrated Introduction, Chiang Mai, 2004, p. 46. David Weldon, 'The Perfect Image: The Speelman Collection of Yongle and Xuande Buddhist Icons', Arts of Asia, 1996, pp. 64-73.


The Speelman Collection. Sotheby's Hong Kong, 7th October 2006, lot 803.


Property from an Important Asian Collector