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Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, Transitional period, late 10th-early 11th century
H. 26 3/4 in. (67.9 cm)
Gilt copper with inlays of semiprecious stone

Historically, Nepal consisted of a much smaller region than the modern nation, which was formed during the 18th century, encompasses today. It included only the section known as the Kathmandu Valley and a few outlying areas. Nepali art was created by artists of Newari descent within this limited geographic area, and for this reason exhibits a certain conservatism and consistency. Yet because of Nepal's critical location-linking north and east India with other nations of the Himalayas such as Tibet-there are also mutual influences between Nepali art and that of other styles found throughout the Himalayan region.

This late 10th- or early 11th-century sculpture of Avalokiteshvara demonstrates the more elaborate modeling and greater detail of Nepali sculpture from this time, along with the influence of Pala-period Indian conventions. The bodhisattva's transparent garment is indicated by delicate floral patterns and thin incised lines about the knees that represent the hemline. The sash, cord, and other adornments are thick and elaborate. Both of the figure's hands are held in the gesture of teaching (vitarkamudra), in which the thumb touches the index or middle finger, suggesting that this sculpture was originally part of a triad consisting of the Buddha Amitabha and the bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Mahamasthamaprapta. This gesture is used by both Amitabha and Avalokiteshvara when they are shown guiding the souls of the faithful to rebirth in Amitabha's pure land, known as Sukhavati.

This is one of the earliest extant examples of the use of semiprecious stone inlays to decorate a sculpture. Originally all of the circular depressions in the jewelry would have been filled with multicolored stones; few remain today. The use of inlays spread from Nepal to Tibet, and such decorate inlays are among the most distinctive features of Himalayan sculpture.

Asia Society, New York, New York, USA
No. 1979.047
Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection

Index terms

Related documents:
Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 24.

Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Hong Kong and Singapore: Hong Kong Museum of Art and National Museum Singapore, 1993, pp. 66, 67.

Huntington, John C. 'Three Essays on Himalayan Metal Images.' Apollo (November 1983), pp. 420-22.

Huntington, Susan L., and John C. Huntington. Leaves from the Bodhi Tree: The Art of Pala India (8th-12th Centuries) and Its International Legacy. Dayton and Seattle: Dayton Art Institute and University of Washington Press, 1990, p. 274.

Lee, Sherman E. Asian Art: Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd. New York: Asia Society, 1970, pp. 18, 19, 31.

Pal, Pratapaditya. 'Rockefeller Bronzes: The Indian Tradition.' ARTnews 69 (September 1970), pp. 48-49, 76-77.

Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Tokyo: Idemitsu Museum of Arts, 1992, pp. 50, 123-24.

Young, Mahonri Sharp. 'Treasures of the Orient: A Rockefeller Collection.' Apollo (November 1970), pp. 329-39.

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