2412 in. (62.2 cm.) high
Collection of Mr. William ‘Doc’ Hardy Hill (1890-1970) and Ouida Lewis Mundy Hill (1899-2000).
Sotheby’s New York, 22 September 2000, Lot 113.
Bonhams New York, 19 May 2018, Lot 3066.
Private Collection.
Sale Room Notice
Please note the starting bid on this Lot has been amended.
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Lot Essay

The present figure of a bodhisattva is a superb example of Gandharan schist sculpture, with its intricately carved details matched in quality by the extraordinary naturalism of the youthful figure. Depicting an unidentified bodhisattva in the regal dress of an Indian prince, the figure captures the spiritual enlightenment of a semi-divine being who has postponed nirvana in order to act as a compassionate guide to those seeking enlightenment on earth.
With the rise of Mahayana Buddhism in the first few centuries of the Common Era, bodhisattvas took on a new and profound importance in Buddhist worship. While earlier practice had focused on the teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni, and for the populist masses, worship of the Buddha’s relics as enshrined in the stupa, the sutras of Mahayana Buddhism expanded on the role of bodhisattvas as cult deities worthy of worship in their own right. Perhaps the two most important of the bodhisattvas within the new forms of worship were Maitreya, considered to be the buddha of the future, and Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. The present figure is missing the attributes that would have allowed for instant recognition by worshippers, Avalokiteshvara identified by the small image of Buddha in his turban, while Maitreya would have held a water pot in his proper left hand.
The ebullience of decoration and complexity is executed in the present lot with particular aplomb. Locks of curls, secured into a top knot, are adorned with strands of pearls and floral medallions. Further down, his chest is adorned with a series of necklaces and sacred threads, each based on actual jewelry types that are known from found extant examples. Closest to his neck is a wide torc decorated with medallions carved in the form of faceted gems and interspersed by strands of pearls. Over the torc hangs a heavy five-chained necklace joined at the chest with makara-head-form clasps, which are in turn connected by another faceted gem. Such necklaces were likely made by joining thousands of small gold loops into larger chains, as evidenced by an example found at Dalverzine-tepe in Uzbekistan, illustrated by C. Woodford Schmidt in “The Sacred and Secular: Jewellery in Buddhist Sculpture in the Northern Kushan Realm,” The Jewels of India, Bombay, 1995, p. 31, fig. 14. Another multi-strand chain necklace hangs diagonally across his chest, and loops over his proper right shoulder. The final strand of jewelry runs from his proper left shoulder to the right side of his ribcage, and supports small beads and amulet boxes which would have held rolled up sutras; extant examples of this form can be found in the collection of the British Museum (acc. no. 1880.29).
The bodhisattva’s upper robes are draped languidly over the proper left shoulder, exposing an armlet on the proper right bicep. One part of the upper garment hangs dynamically in a wide swoop across the upper thighs from hip to hip, while the folds of the lower garment, the dhoti, fall rhythmically to the ankles. The dhoti is secured at the waist with a rope-form belt, synched with an elaborate knot. The feet of the bodhisattva are clad in sandals with lion-head beads spouting strands of pearls that form the thongs of the sandals.
The present lot can be compared to a grey schist figure of Maitreya in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum, published by I. Kurita in Gandharan Art II: The World of the Buddha, Tokyo, 2003, no. 99, p. 42. While the dimensions of the National Museum figure are not published, the two works are similarly proportioned and carry similar physiognomic characteristics, including a crisply carved brow line and undulating mustache. The works are also similarly adorned, apparently wearing the same crescent-style hair piece, similar torcs and chain necklaces, and with robes falling in the same symmetrical pattern.

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