Tibet, 15th Century
Height 12 in.
The eleven-headed eight-armed deity standing with his primary hands folded in front of his chest and his secondary arms radiating around him holding a lotus, mala, dharma wheel, bow, arrow and water pot, clad in a long, flaring dhoti incised with foliate patterns and secured with a pendant belt, an antelope skin draped across his shoulders and further adorned with necklaces and other jewelry, the faces finely detailed and surmounted by elaborate crowns, the tenth head in a fierce expression, the highest head that of Buddha Amitabha.
At one time the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the patron deity of Tibet, made a promise that should he give rise to thoughts of self benefit may his head break into 10 pieces and his body into 1000. After continuously witnessing the misery of beings in various states of existence, discouraged, he gave rise to the thoughts of seeking only his own happiness. At that very instant his head and body shattered. Calling out, the Buddha Amitabha came forth and spoke words of encouragement. Gathering up the 10 pieces of Avalokiteshvara’s head, Amitabha constructed 10 faces – representing the 10 perfections. Gathering the 1000 pieces of the body he constructed another with 1000 hands each with an eye on the palm – representing the 1000 buddhas of the Golden Aeon. Finally he placed a duplicate of his own head at the crown – illuminating the entire threefold universe. This story is found in the apocryphal Tibetan text called the Mani Kabum. In that text it also describes how Tara appears from a tear drop coming from Avalokiteshvara’s right eye and the goddess Brikuti appears from a tear drop of the left eye. Both Tara and Brikuti are manifesting, like the other enlightened figures, to assist Avalokiteshvara on the path of benefitting all beings and reaching enlightenemnet. Some modern tellings of the story state that the two goddesses were Green Tara and White Tara.
This example of the eleven-faced form of Avalokiteshvara is of superior composition and features fine proportion, close detail, and precise incising. It is one of the finest cast examples of the eleven-faced form of Avalokiteshvara found in any private or museum collection world-wide. It is from the distinguished collection of the renowned collector, Onno Janssens.
Provenance: Onno Janssens, the Netherlands, 1998
Onno Janssens collection of Himalayan bronze was recognized world-wide as one of the finest private collections in existence. Over many trips to the Himalayas, he became known for his refined eye for acquiring only the finest examples of casting, especially those bronzes featuring precise detail.