An early 15th century gilt bronze seated figure of Avalokiteshvara (known as Guanyin) was one of several lots to far exceed estimate, selling for £1.6m (estimate £150,000-200,000) at the auction on November 6.
This finely cast 10in (25cm) sculpture of the bodhisattva of compassion wearing the trappings of an early Indian prince dates to the reign of Xuande (1426-35) – a time when the imperial court looked favourably on Buddhism and made a concerted effort to build secular and religious alliances with Tibet.
Most such images were made for the court, as indicated by the inscription translating as ‘Bestowed [during the] Xuande era [of the] Great Ming’. It contained an internal surprise.
As indicated by an X-ray taken in an Oxford laboratory, the hollow-cast figure retains the dedicatory materials – probably small scrolls, textile fragments and perhaps seeds of auspicious plants – that were commonly deposited in religious bronzes to enliven the statue and grant them efficacy. Typically these elements are lost but here they are held in place by wax and an original copper base plate inscribed with a double vajra.
A renowned British art historian, collector and connoisseur, Soame Jenyns was assistant keeper of Oriental antiquities at the British Museum from 1931-67 and wrote several definitive books on Chinese and Japanese ceramics. Christie’s included 24 pieces in its King Street sale and 138 lots in a dedicated online catalogue ending on November 8.
The bronze was among the top lots of last week’s run of Asian Art in London sales with more to come this week.