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Lacquered gesso figure of the bodhisattva Manjushri
Tibeto-Chinese, late 17th or early 18th century

Lacquered gesso figure of the bodhisattva Manjushri

A lacquered gesso figure of Manjushri, the bodhisattva seated on a double lotus base, his legs folded with the soles of his feet turned up. He wears a flowing loincloth, tied at the waist, and an elaborately knotted scarf that covers both shoulders and trails down to the base. His hair is gathered into an elaborate double finial and crowned by a five-pointed diadem. He wears jewelled necklaces, bracelets and long pendulous earrings. With his raised right hand he brandishes a large double-edged sword (khagda) with flaming tip. In his left hand he holds the stem of a large cluster of lotus flowers and leaves. Perched on the ledge before him is a small book. The figure itself is covered in layers of gilt lacquer and has painted detail to the face. The lotus base is covered in brown lacquer with gilt detail.

• Manjushri is a prominent deity in the Buddhist pantheon, and is usually identified as the Bodhisattva of Transcendent Wisdom. This wisdom is contained within the sacred text that lies on the lotus base before him. Together with Avalokitesvara, the deity who represents Compassion, they embody the essence of enlightenment. The sword is a symbol for the overcoming of darkness and ignorance.1 This sculpture is of very fine quality and made from an unusual material; it is built up from a gesso-like substance that is subsequently gilded and painted. More often, such images of Manjushri are made in metal. In view of the accomplished lacquering technique used, it is likely that the present figure was made by Chinese craftsmen. A similar image in giltbronze, described as coming from Eastern Tibet, is in the Rietberg Museum, Zürich.2 A monumental figure of Manjushri in gilt brass, said to have come from a temple in Chahar, inner Mongolia, is in the Folkens Museum Etnografiska in Stockholm.3

1 Uhlig, H. On the Path to Enlightenment, The Berti Aschmann Foundation of Tibetan Art at the Museum Rietberg, Zürich, 1995, p. 115
2 Uhlig, H. op. cit. no. 65, p. 114-5
3 Rhie, M.M. and Thurman, R.A.F. Wisdom and Compassion, the Sacred Art of Tibet, Tibet House, New York, 1991, no. 35, p. 144

Height: 18 inches, 45.7 cm

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