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HOME : Asian Art : Art of Tibet : Sino-Tibetan Gilt-Bronze Bhaishajyaraja (Medicine King) with Turquoise and Red Coral Inlay
Sino-Tibetan Gilt-Bronze Bhaishajyaraja (Medicine King) with Turquoise and Red Coral Inlay - MA.2
Circa: 18 th Century AD to 19 th Century AD
Dimensions: 6.8" (17.3cm) high x 4.9" (12.4cm) wide x 3.4" (8.6cm) depth
Collection: Asian Art
Style: Sino-Tibetan
Medium: Gilt-Bronze
Condition: Very Fine

Location: Great Britain
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This is a magnificent gilt-bronze bodhisattva of Bhaishajyaraja, the Medicine King, who is said to have been reborn over a period of numerous lifetimes healing and curing diseases and is a representation of the healing power of the Buddha. In the Buddhist religion, bodhisattvas are souls who have attained enlightenment and no longer need to reincarnate, but forsake nirvana and choose to remain on earth to alleviate the suffering of others. This statuette is a very rare and unique example of the Sino-Tibetan tradition of Buddhist statuary. Situated at the crossroads of present-day India, Nepal and China, the Tibetan bodhisattva incorporates elements from the different cultures while retaining a distinct Tibetan style. Conceived by Tibetan bronze casters – among the finest in the world – this work embodies the style of bronze-cast statuettes that is most sought- after on the market today.

Beginning with the hair of the bodhisattva, we see a thin and straightly carved hair that rises around the top-knot, or ushnisha, that creates extra brain capacity for the Buddha’s superlative spiritual wisdom. While there is no crown, the hair is shaped to mimic a crown, and has one central decorative feature inlaid with one red coral and two flanking turquoise inlays. Beads begin in the hair and manifest in more precious inlays that are used sparingly throughout the decoration of the bodhisattva. It is remarkable to see a gilt- bronze bodhisattva from this time period with so much of the precious inlaid materials intact. Instead of a detailed and ornate drape of surplice, this bodhisattva has long hair that continues all the way down past the earrings that make the bodhisattva’s ears droop – a feature reminiscent of the princely Siddhartha Gautama’s removal of the royal earrings, a symbol of the Buddha’s renunciation of the physical world. As bodhisattvas have remained in the earthly realm to assist others achieve enlightenment, however, they still sport the princely earrings.

The bodhisattva’s facial features are restoratively peaceful in mood and rendering. The bodhisattva’s deeply incised eyebrows rise well above the eyes and match their slope, but not their curvature. Downward sloping eyebrows and sinking edges of both eyes suggest an inner calm that is in consonance with the bodhisattva’s hands forming the Dhyana mudra, the mudra of absolute balance, meditation and inner peace. These fuller eyes and curved, rounded nose suggest a more southern influence; that is to say, the facial features of this bodhisattva are more South Asian than they are Chinese. Of great import are the three folds in the neck and upper chest area that first came about in Tang Chinese Buddhist statuary. As this gilt-bronze statue dates back only to the 18th and 19th centuries, these folds demonstrate a commitment to the archaic tradition.

There is only one hanging necklace that ends at the upper chest on this bodhisattva. A unique cross-hatched pattern with two lines alternating with circles guides the viewer’s sight to the central inlays. This red coral and flanking turquoise motif continues to the central object that the bodhisattva holds, likely a medicinal censer judging by the medicine deity who is depicted. Curiously, the bodhisattva wears a simple monastic robe that covers the upper chest, yet does not disguise the nipples. Further down the statue, a long and simple skirt garment bundles at the base of the bodhisattva underneath the two upwards facing feet.

At the base, we see the common symmetrical double-lotus flower pedestal that, around its upper edge, is surrounded by beads. At the bottom edge, however, we see two tiers of steps that may suggest some degree of approach necessary for confronting the medicine bodhisattva.

Magnus Allan - (MA.2)


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