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Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

  • Object:

    Figure

  • Place of origin:

    Tibet (made)

  • Date:

    14th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gilt copper set with natural turquoise (as well as glass simulants), garnets, green transparent glass (foiled and tinted green), and colourless transparent glass (foiled and tinted red).

  • Museum number:

    IM.239-1922

  • Gallery location:

    Buddhism, Room 18, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art, case 2

The figure represents the Buddhist Lord of Compassion, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, in his popular manifestation as Padmapani, the lotus-bearer. The Bodhisattva’s right hand is lowered in the gesture of granting wishes ('varadamudra'). His left is ready to support the stem of the lotus ('padma'), but this is now missing.

Newar craftsmen made this finely jewelled image for Tibetan patrons, probably in Shigatse, southern Tibet, where it was acquired. It exemplifies the long tradition, beginning in the 7th century AD, of Newar craftsmen from the Kathmandu Valley working for Tibetan patrons in Tibet itself.

Bodhisattva Padmapani
Nepal
Late 14th-early 15th century, Malla period
Gilt copper inlaid with precious & semi-precious stones, ht. 93 cm
V&A IM.239-1922

The Buddhist lord of compassion, Avalokitesvara, is represented in his popular manifestation as Padmapani, the Lotus Bearer. Padmapani is one of the Bodhisattvas, enlightened beings who voluntarily postpone passing into nirvana in order to help others gain salvation. The concept of the Bodhisattva was developed in the Mahayanist school of Buddhist thought and gained enormous popularity in the Himalayas and the greater Asian world. The stillness and serenity of this figure speaks of the state of harmony to which the Bodhisattva aspires, while the flexed and sensuous links him to the human world. The Bodhisattva’s right hand is lowered in the gesture of granting wishes (varadamudra). His left hand is poised to support the stem of the lotus (padma), but this is now missing. The figure is richly adorned with jewellery detailing inset with precious and semi-precious stones. He wears a five-pointed diadem surrounding his elaborate raised hair (jatamukuta) which is surmounted by a small image of the Buddha Amitabha, of whom Avalokitesvara Padmapani is seen as an emanation.

Newar craftsmen made this finely jewelled image for Tibetan patrons, probably in Shigatse, central Tibet, where it was acquired. It exemplifies the long tradition, beginning in the 7th century CE, of Newar craftsmen from the Kathmandu Valley working for Tibetan patrons in Tibet. This masterpiece of Newari metal-casting was acquired by Brigadier-General C.G. Rawlings at Shigatse in 1904, whilst en route to Lhasa as part of the British Younghusband expedition. It is recorded that several members of the expedition acquired examples of ‘Lamaist’ art in the course of this journey.

Physical description

Avalokitesvara, the Buddhist lord of compassion, is represented in his popular manifestation as Padmapani, the Lotus Bearer. Padmapani is a bodhisattva, an enlightened being who voluntarily postponed attaining nirvana, so that he could guide and help others to achieve salvation. The concept of the boddhisattva was developed in the Mahayanist school of Buddhist thought, and it gained enormous popularity in the Himalayas. The stillness and serenity of this figure coveys to the viewer the state of harmony to which the boddhisattva aspires. Whilst the sensuous contrapposto of Padmapani's sleek, androgynous body ties him to the human world.

Place of Origin

Tibet (made)

Date

14th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Gilt copper set with natural turquoise (as well as glass simulants), garnets, green transparent glass (foiled and tinted green), and colourless transparent glass (foiled and tinted red).

Dimensions

Height: 93 cm, Width: 34 cm, Depth: 16.5 cm

Object history note

In 1904 this exquisite sculpture was acquired by Brigadier-General C. G. Rawlings, whilst he was in the Xigaze (Shigatse) District of central Tibet. Rawlings was a member of the Younghusband Expedition, which that year had fought its way from India to Lhasa. This was in order to force Tibet to engage in trade with British India. It was recorded at the time that several members of the expedition acquired examples of "Lamaist" art en route.

By 1922, when this sculpture was purchased for £210, Indian sculptures had in general become increasingly prized for their aesthetic value as well as their antiquarian worth. Previously, there had been a preference for Gandharan works produced in a more Hellenistic style.

Descriptive line

Figure of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Padmapani), the Lotus Bearer, gilt-copper set with natural turquoise (as well as glass simulants), garnets, green and colourless glass. Produced in Nepal during the 14th century.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

John Guy, A Grand Design, The Arts of the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1997, p240-1

p. 91
Ayers, J. Oriental Art in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London 1983, ISBN 0-85667-120-7
Baker, Malcolm, and Brenda Richardson (eds.), A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A Publications, 1999.
Orientations; vol. 40. no. 4; May 2009; The Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum.
Amy Heller, Tibetan Buddhist Sculptures in the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Gallery, p. 58.
p.43, Cat.104
L'escultura en el temples indis : l'art de la devoció : exposició organitzada per la Fundació "La Caixa" i el Victoria & Albert Museum, Londres. [Barcelona: Obra social, Fundació "la Caixa", c2007 Number: 9788476649466

Labels and date

The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
(Padmapani)
1300–1400
Malla dynasty
Nepal
Gilded copper with precious and semi-precious stones
Padmapani, or ‘Bearer of the lotus’, is one of the most
important forms of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara,
the most widely worshipped of all the bodhisattvas.
This finely jewelled image was made by Newar
craftsmen from the Kathmandu Valley for Tibetan
patrons. The figure’s left hand once held the stem
of a flowering lotus.
Museum no. IM.239-1922
Ex Younghusband Expedition 1904 [1/4/2009]

Production Note

Acquired in Shigatse, southern Tibet, and possibly made there.

Materials

Copper-gilt; Rubies; Emerald; Lapis-lazuli; Turquoise; Rock crystal

Techniques

Cast; Gilding

Categories

Sculpture; Buddhism; Metalwork

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

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