Phagpa Lokeshvara, variants (4)

18th century, China, Phagpa Lokeshvara, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

Although this blog is about Himalayan art, and therefore doesn’t include objects made in China, sculptures of Phagpa Lokeshvara are so rare that it is always interesting to look at them and compare them with the oldest image known so far, held at the Potala. The above has Chinese facial features, rigid but slender legs, graceful arms and a thin waist. There is an effigy of himself on his crown. His striped dhoti, much shorter on one side, is decorated with a stippled floral motif and an incised hem.

His earrings are round rather than square, with the petals and stamens clearly visible.

Undated, China?, ivory, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

This curious ivory figure with Chinese facial features is adorned with jewellery and wears striped legging under his two-tier dhoti. Other odd features are the sash, which appears to be knotted around the left leg, and the unfinished feet.

 

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Phagpa Lokeshvara – a question of arms

It is always sad to see a sculpture of Phagpa Lokeshvara badly maimed or with a limb missing but one of them appears to have recovered a missing arm!

14th c. or later, Tibet, Phagpa Lokeshvara, polychrome wood, 30 cm, private collection.

The image on the left was published in 2001 on the immensely useful Himalayan Art Resources website, labelled Rakta Lokeshvara, stone. The image on the right was published on Sotheby’s website in September 2008 and twice again on the HAR website (labelled Phagpa Lokeshvara), the last time recently and still with both arms. The two items are one and the same, even the scratches on the surface are identical.

Undated, Tibet or Nepal, wood and paint, at Musée Guimet in Paris (France).

The fact that his arms are detachable and prone to fall off doesn’t explain why this particular one holds his left arm away from his hip, with his fingers folded to hold the stem of a lotus. It seems to be the only Himalayan example (so far) with this peculiar feature. The effigy of himself on his crown distinguishes him from the padmapani form of Avalokiteshvara, who normally holds the stem of a lotus.

Phagpa Lokeshvara, variants (3)

Undated, Tibet or Nepal?, Phagpa Lokeshvara, wood, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

Most wooden sculptures of Phagpa Lokeshvara have reached us with one or several limbs broken.  Apart from his hairstyle, crown and earrings, which are enough to identify him, the left hand gripping the thigh is specific to this form of Avalokiteshvara.

Same as before.

Like the oldest example known so far, the above has an effigy of himself on the front panel of his crown, which is only slightly taller than his hair. His sash is broader and knotted to one side, the end folded to form an elegant swallow-tail design.

14th century, Central Tibet, Phagpa Lokeshvara, polychrome wood, at the Rietberg Museum in Amsterdam (The Netherlands).

A magnificent and well-preserved example, with Tibetan-style  facial features, square shoulders, marked pectorals and broad limbs.

His dhoti, much shorter on one side, is painted with a golden star-like floral motif on a black background, the sash is decorated with spirals.

His body, face and earrings are painted with cold gold, the hair is dyed with blue pigment.

The flaming arch behind him follows a classic Nepalese design: lotuses supporting elephants, viyalas, makaras, linked to the garuda at the top with foliated scrolls. The lotus pedestal on which he stands is on a stepped throne supported by kinnaras (normally on the arch), snow lions and a yaksha. The edges are decorated with embossed vajra sceptres and lotuses.

Phagpa Lokeshvara, variants (2)

Undated (14th century circa?), Tibet?, wood, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

Quite different from the original in proportions, he holds his right hand at the same awkward angle and also has an effigy of himself on the front panel of his crown. The developed pectorals and the facial features point to a Tibetan artist.

Undated, Tibetan or Nepalese artist, Phagpa Lokeshvara, wood, at Tabo Monastery in Himachal Pradesh, published by Ian Alsop (see link in left-hand column).This one has a lotus flower on the front panel of his crown.

Undated, Tibet or Nepal, polychrome wood, private collection, photo by Spink & Son.

Dressed in a tight-fitting ankle-length dhoti decorated with a small geometrical motif, coupled with a broad sash, he holds an object in his left hand.

Undated, Tibet or Nepal, gilt wood, private collection, same as before.

A slim figure with long legs,  a soft sash worn low down and knotted to one side, decorated with foliated scrolls.

His hair and facial features have been painted with pigments.

Undated, Tibet or Nepal, wood and cold gold, pigments, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

Another figure with long legs, and a particularly tall headdress. It is worth noting that on these sculptures the height of the crown is almost double that of the folded hair (unlike the prototype at the Potala).

His face is painted with cold gold, the facial features and the hair with pigments.

We have seen such short dhotis painted with a geometrical motif in black and red/ochre on wooden works made during the Nepalese Malla period. This one also wears his sash very low down, but the end is stiff and rectangular.

Tibet, Phagpa Lokeshvara – variants (2)

11th century, Tibet, Phagpa Lokeshvara, wood, collection of Navin Kumar, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

Unlike the prototype at the Potala, this sculpture depicts him with his legs and torso straight, a broad chest, square shoulders, a broad sash…

no effigy on the front panel of his tall crown, and a squarer face with Tibetan facial features.

13th-14th century, Tibet, Phagpa Lokeshvara, gilt wood and pigment, on loan at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (The Netherlands).

On the contrary, this one has a very thin waist, his torso is slightly bent to one side, cold gold has been applied all over…

…  his facial features have been painted with pigments. There is an effigy of himself at the front of his crown. One peculiarity is the row of hair locks arranged vertically at the front rather, than diagonally.

His lower garment is richly decorated with a floral/lotus motif and held in place with a matching belt.

18th century (late 17th century has also been suggested), Tibet, Phagpa Lokeshvara, gilt wood with traces of red paint, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

With this late copy, we are back to the stiff pose.

The lotiform earrings have a longer and sharper protuberance (pistil).

Whereas it would make sense to apply cold gold on all the naked parts of the body, it is not clear why the crown, earrings and part of the dhoti have also been painted, especially as the garment and the belt have a gold motif on a plain background.

17th-18th century (an earlier date, 16th-17th century, has also been suggested for this piece), Tibet, Phagpa Lokeshvara, polychrome wood, same as before.

These pieces are so beautifully crafted that the mind tends to make abstraction of the broken or missing limbs because the spiritual dimension of the image is still powerfully transmitted.

This one has a Malla-style beaked nose, the lips are painted with red pigment, his crown is incised with a geometrical motif.

This view of the back confirms that the crown only has three leaves, all at the front and gives us an idea of the complexity of his hair style.

Phagpa Lokeshvara, a singular metal statue

7th-8th century, Nepal, Avalokiteshvara, Phagpa Lokeshvara form, gilt copper, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

It is generally accepted that metal, stone and ivory sculptures of this form of Avalokiteshvara are far posterior to the original sandalwood icon kept at the Potala, made by a Nepalese artist  in Tibet or Nepal and dated 7th century. This copper image, however, has all the characteristics of the Nepalese Licchavi period and looks very much like a Vajrapani kept at the Cleveland Museum, and another kept at a temple in Kathmandu, both dated 8th century.

All three wear a similar necklace and snakelet armbands high up on their forearms, which we have also seen on a 6th-7th century wooden Avalokiteshvara from the Freer and Sackler Gallery.

At the same time, there is no doubt that this is Phapga Lokeshvara but with added jewellery (other than his usual earrings) …

… and without a banana-like hair bunch sticking out of his mitre-like crown. We saw a similar headdress on a 15th century circa Tibetan wooden image (reproduced below for comparison).

Both have an effigy on the front panel of the crown, not of Amitabha, as may be assumed, but of Phagpa Lokeshvara himself (a feature specific to this form of Avalokiteshvara).

We are therefore looking at a (so far) unique metal version of the Potala image made more or less at the same time.

Tibet, Phagpa Lokeshvara variants

There is a number of wooden Phagpa Lokeshvara sculptures thought to be from Tibet which follow a standard design, although this design is quite different from the famous original 7th century Nepalese figure at the Potala.

13th century circa, Tibet, Phagpa Lokeshvara, polychrome wood, photo by

13th century circa, Tibet, Phagpa Lokeshvara, polychrome wood, photo by Michael Cohn.

They all depict him with a taller three-leaf crown,  without an effigy of  himself at the centre. He wears the same bulky earrings and thin belt to hold his long dhoti.

14th century or later, Tibet, polychrome wood,

14th century or later, Tibet, polychrome wood, photo by Sotheby’s.

but the sash across his hips is broader and falls lower down. It is sometimes knotted at the side, as on the previous photo.

16th century, Tibet, wood and pigment, photo by Astamangala.

16th century, Tibet, wood and pigment, photo by Astamangala.

On all of them, the facial features are broader and the limbs fleshier. In the absence of inscriptions, it is impossible to known with certainty whether the sculptures were made by a Tibetan rather than a Nepalese artist but they certainly correspond to the Tibetan standards.