Fine Asian antiques that offer Western collectors the opportunity to embark on a lifetime of study and contemplation are a feature of a sale in Ewbank’s Asian Art and Antiques on Thursday April 14.
Objects related to Buddhism and the Buddha are a constant in such auctions, this one being no exception, with three representations of the “enlightened one” being among the most valuable pieces among entries received so far.
Two are identical Chinese gilt bronze depictions of the Amitayus Buddha, also called the Buddha of Infinite Light, a monk named Dharmakara. He promised that, on his attaining Buddhahood, all who had faith in him would be reborn in his paradise and would reside there in bliss until they had attained enlightenment.
Devotion to him began in China in about 650AD and from there spread to Japan. Amitayus is also highly regarded in Tibet and Nepal as one of the five “self-born” Buddhas, where he is worshiped in a special ceremony for obtaining long life.
The figures for sale show him seated with legs crossed in the classic dhyanasana position, a posture of meditation, while a separately cast flame, or mandorla, at his back signifies eternal light.
Each bronze is inscribed Da Qing Qianlong Geng Yin Jing Zao, which translates as “Made in the Geng Yin year of Qianlong”, corresponding to 1770. Each is 21cm tall and estimated £3,000-5,000.
The same estimate is also carried by a Japanese lacquer figure of Jizo Bosatsu. In Japanese Buddhism, Jizo is one of the most venerated beings showing the way to Nirvana who made a vow not to achieve Buddhahood until all hells are emptied.
He is the protector of travellers and the souls of all beings trapped in hell, particularly children who die before their parents, who are not capable of crossing the fabled river Sanzu in the afterlife because they have not had the time to accumulate enough karma (good deeds). It is believed Jizo saves these souls from the punishment of having to pile stones eternally on the bank of the river.
The lacquer figure shows Jizo seated in the lalitasana position of calmness or ease with one leg hanging vertically and the other folded horizontally across the throne and he holds a hoju (sacred pearl) in his left hand. It dates from the Edo period, probably 18th century, and is 74cm tall.
The three figures have been consigned for sale by the executors of a local deceased estate.
In contrast, an imposing, large bronze figure of a walking Buddha wearing a sanghatti (monastic robe) his right hand extended downwards and his left hand in abhaya mudra (gesture of fearlessness) stands 150cm and is estimated at £3,000-5,000. It was made in the Chiang Sen district of Northern Thailand in 19th century style, but dates from the 20th century and is also from a local deceased estate.
A Burmese marble carved figure of Buddha, meanwhile, comes from Shan State, an area of Myanmar, the northern area of which borders China, and is populated by the Tai-Shan people who migrated from Yunan in the 10th century AD. The figure sits cross-legged on a lotus throne and is mounted on a modern stand and base. A label on the bottom of the base shows it was purchased from London and Hong Kong dealers Altfield in 2000 and is expected to sell for £500-800.
A Tibetan bronze Buddha seated on a stepped throne, flanked by two figures and lions at the front corners, has retained the remnants of its red and gilt decoration and is estimated at £400-600. It shows Buddha in varada mudra, or “generosity gesture”, the figure’s arm hanging naturally at the side of the body, the palm of the open hand facing forward.
No sale of Asian art would be complete without a section devoted entirely to jade works of art, which are coveted as much by Western collectors as they are by Asian buyers keen to repatriate their heritage.
China’s most precious of stones, considered to be more precious even than either silver or gold, jade is translucent, lustrous and resonant, and thought to represent such human attributes as wisdom, purity, courage, power and immortality.
It was all things to all men: Emperors carried jade sceptres as emblems of their authority, while good luck charms carved with entwined fish were given to newly-weds to bring them marital bliss. It was also believed to ward off evil spirits, so utilitarian objects like incense burners, brush pots and covered bowls would be the gift of choice both to give and receive, while it was also believed it was capable of making poison harmless, so it was favoured by emperors for cups and wine goblets.
Already consigned to the sale is a group of six pieces from a collection of Chinese works of art collected by the grandfather of the vendor. Pick of the collection is a grey, white and brown mottled jade, carved intricately with dragons, one a Chi, the name given to the mythical beasts without horns, the other with two tails, known as a bifid dragon. The jade measures 5.5cm high and 15.5cm wide and is estimated at £3,500-4,500.
A grey and brown mottled jade pendant carved as a winged bifid dragon on a lily is 9cm wide and estimated at £1,800-2,200. The six lots together are estimated at around £10,000.
Six lots have been consigned from the collection formed by an Indian family based in Hong Kong, notably two 19th century portraits done in water-based pigments on handmade paper and each estimated at £500-800.
One is by an artist from the Jaipur School depicting Raja Jagat Singhji (need pic) the other probably done in Hyderabad, of a princess riding a horse, the horse’s body a composite of other animals and mythical creatures.
The sale includes a number of pieces of 19th century Chinese carved ivory including a figure of a bald monk carrying a staff, and a figure of a lady holding a peacock. Each stands on a carved hardwood base, the former 33cms in height, the latter 31cm, and each is estimated £200-300.
Most valuable among Chinese blue and white porcelain consigned so far is a pair of vases with flared trumpet-shaped rims and bases shaped like bells, the whole decorated with scrolling flowers and foliage. The vases stand 23cm high and the pair is estimated at £1,000-1,500.