Extraordinary sculptures, bronzes and paintings from China, India, Mongolia, Nepal and Tibet will be amongst the fine Asian works of art on offer at Rossi & Rossi’s Stand C1 at Fine Art Asia in Hong Kong, the continent’s leading annual fine art and antiques fair. Held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, the event runs from 30 September to 3 October 2017.
Highlights will include a rare monumental 13th- to 14th-century bronze sculpture of the bodhisattva Avalokitèshvara from Nepal. Standing with hips swayed at an imposing 88.9 cm (35 in) in height, this work would have been an important commission, as evidenced by its fine quality and large size. The figure’s right hand extends downwards along his thigh, displaying the varada mudra (the open-palmed gesture of generosity). His delicate facial features, well proportioned and expertly cast, are composed in a meditative yet compassionate expression, with eyes gently gazing downwards. Traces of inlaid semi-precious stones remain on the ornaments that cover his body, which include anklets, rings, bracelets, armbands, necklaces, earrings, a belt, a meditation cord and a crown. The deity would have stood upon a lotus base and grasped the stem of lotus flower in his left hand (both elements are now lost). The bodhisattva’s refined, gentle and elegant features demonstrate the fine craftsmanship for which Newari artists of the period were famed. While many images of the Avalokitèshvara from Nepal survive, the fine quality and large size of this work make it an extraordinary and exceedingly rare example of its type.
Also on offer is an exquisite late 17th- to early 18th-century Mongolian gilt copper sculpture of Chagan Sambhar-a with painted details. Originally exhibited in 2004 by Rossi & Rossi in Treasures from Mongolia: Buddhist Sculpture from the School of Zanabazar – the first-ever commercial exhibition devoted to Mongolian bronzes – and published in its eponymous catalogue, the work is now back on the market. The sculpture is a rare depiction of the benevolent form of Samvara, a popular tutelary for patron deities of Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhism, known as Sitasamvara or White Samvara. Seated on a double-lotus pedestal, the figure has two arms and one head, and embraces his consort, Vajravarahi (their union symbolising the merging of compassion and wisdom). Sitasamvara holds two vases filled with the elixir for immortality, while Vajravarahi clutches two skull cups. Both deities are beautifully crowned, coiffed and bejewelled. Traces of paint remain on their hair and faces, highlighting their full lips and gently curving eyelids. At 24 cm (9 ½ in) in height, this is a relatively large example of Mongolian bronze production, and is in excellent condition.
From 7th- to 8th-century South Asia, an exceptionally rare post-Gupta-style bronze sculpture of a Standing Buddha is another highlight of the fair. Standing at 33 cm (13 in) in height, the work displays the fluid modelling typical of South Asian sculpture, which emphasises soft, flowing volumes, rather than linear forms. The Buddha’s large, oval head is topped with small, rounded curls, gently rising in a triangular shape to form the ushnisha. The figure exhibits features typical of the period, including full, sensual lips; a long, fleshy nose with a slight hook; a pronounced, wave-shaped hairline across the forehead; continuous, double-arched eyebrows; and the three rings on the neck. The standing deity is depicted with broad shoulders, with his right hand raised at chest level in abhaya mudra (the gesture of fearlessness); his left hand is extended outwards at waist level, with his palm facing upwards to form the vitarka mudra (the gesture of discussion and teaching), while grasping the end of his robe. A small bulge in his stomach, above a deep indentation, indicates the waist of his garment. The figure’s thighs are naturalistically proportioned, but his lower legs and feet appear to be somewhat stunted. While a more precise point of origin cannot be determined, Indian influence, specifically the influence of Gupta sculpture, can be seen here in the fleshy features of the Buddha, as well as the manner in which his monastic robe is worn, drawn up to cover both shoulders.
Rossi & Rossi will also be exhibiting a number of paintings from China and Tibet, including a 17th-century Sino-Tibetan work depicting Arhat Vanavasin. Here, he is shown in his usual iconographic form: making a pointing gesture with his right hand and holding a fly whisk in his left. He is dressed in a red and blue patchwork robe featuring rich brocade patterns. To his right stands a lay attendant holding a scholars’ rock, and at the top centre of the composition is the Buddhist meditational deity, White Tara. The painting would have been part of a set representing the Sixteen Great Arhats, along with the Buddha Shakyamuni, the attendant Dharmatala, the patron Hvashang and the Four Directional Guardian Kings. The set of paintings to which this work belongs was almost certainly based on an earlier group of Chinese imperial workshop paintings dating from the Yongle period (1403–25) depicting the same subject. Later Tibetan artists likely created numerous sets of arhat paintings based on Yongle period examples. The colour and contour of the present work’s landscapes show a clear affinity with the classical blue-green style of painting that can be traced back to the Tang period (618–907). Other highlights include a ca. 17th-century painting from eastern Tibet of Manjushri with attendant, in which the bodhisattva is depicted with an orange complexion, with one face and two arms, seated on a throne in a relaxed manner with his left leg pendant. His whimsical throne features curved shapes and unusual structures, and is adorned with multicoloured wish-fulfilling jewels. While depictions of Manjushri typically adhere to the strict iconographic guidelines outlined in technical manuals, this work shows that the artist took certain liberties – reinterpreting the subject’s garments and ornaments. Tantric images of the deity are also iconic, static and formalised; however, here the bodhisattva is shown with fluidity and dynamism, indicating that he is being portrayed as a student of the Buddha, as described in the sutra literature of Mahayana Buddhism. The work would have belonged to a nine-painting set depicting the Eight Great Bodhisattvas, with a central depiction of either Shakyamuni or Amitabha Buddha. The painting style appears to be eastern Tibetan, from the Lhatog region south of Chamdo, and strongly associated with Khampa Gar, a stronghold of the Drukpa Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
Also on offer is a selection of sculptures from India and Gandhara, including a finely carved fragmentary Buddha frieze, dating to 2nd to 3rd century Gandhara. Carved in high relief, the work shows the Buddha seated in meditation upon a tapering lotus pedestal; he wears a typical robe that exposes his right shoulder. His hands are placed in dharmachakra mudra, indicating the turning of the wheel of the law, and he looks straight at the viewer, his expression calm and contemplative. The Buddha is framed by two standing bodhisattvas and additional smaller figures. Each bodhisattva has a plain circular nimbus that frames his head, and wears flowing robes and decorative amulet necklaces. They both hold a thick garland of flowers as they look slightly downwards and towards the Buddha seated between them. Positioned above the right shoulder of the Buddha is a group of small figures, including additional seated representations of the Buddha and a bodhisattva, perhaps indicating that the frieze depicts the Miracle at Sravasti – when the Buddha displayed his power by performing miracles, including creating replicas of himself, before a gathering of heretical masters. The frieze was purchased in 1964 by the then-US ambassador to Pakistan, Walter P. McConaughy, who was a specialist in the Far East for the State Department. Hailing also from Gandhara is a ca. 3rd-century polychrome stucco sculpture of the Head of the Buddha. The larger-than-life-sized work, at 38.5 cm (15 ¼ in) in height, shows close stylistic affinities with early stucco production from Gandharan sites at Taxila (modern-day western Pakistan). The Buddha has a serene expression: his heavy-lidded, almond-shaped eyes, high-arching brows and full lips are sensitively modelled and highly expressive. Elongated ears frame his heart-shaped face, and his wavy hair is pulled back into a topknot over his ushnisha. Traces of pigment are still visible, especially on the lips and brow.