12th c. Indian-style Avalokiteshvara

12th century, Tibet, bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, copper or copper alloy with pigments and turquoise inlay, at the Rubin Museum of Art.

12th century, Tibet or India, bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, copper or copper alloy with pigments and turquoise inlay, at the Rubin Museum of Art.

Avalokiteshvara has a tall Pala-style chignon and low crown decorated with large bows and rosettes, some strands of hair falling on his soulders. He is identified through the long-stemmed lotus in his left hand and the way he holds his right hand to keep fear away. It is difficult to know whether the statue was made in India or by an Indian (or Tibetan) artist in Tibet. The use of plain copper or copper alloy is quite rare among Indian Pala period sculptures; the same goes for the use of large pieces of turquoise  in the crown, urna and jewellery (on Pala statues they are more discreet). At any rate, this statue was worshipped in Tibet, as the cold gold on the face and the lapis lazuli powder in the hair indicate. Such features, added to fleshy lips painted with red pigment and the soft colour of the metal, give the statue a warm aspect typical of Tibetan rather than Indian works.

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