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Marcel Nies

19. Avalokitesvara
Cambodia, Bayon
circa 1200 A.D.
Sandstone, fine structured stone with grey-greenish patina
height 93 cm.


The popular Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is the lord of infinite compassion, an emanation of Amithaba, the oldest of the five cosmic Buddhas. This important Buddha is the embodiment of the cosmic element Samja (name), presides silently over the present Kalpa (age), symbolises the stream of life (the vital fluid) and represents the summer season. Avalokitesvara is one of the Buddhist Bodhisattvas, the actual creators of the universe; 'Bodhi' means knowledge and 'Sattva' means essence. After his attainment of enlightenment, he wanted to guide beings to the path of Buddha, leading to perfection.

The sculpture clearly displays the peculiar characteristics of the Bayon style; the legs have a powerful and heavy volume with well marked knee caps, all the other volumes of the body are full and rounded, and the navel is depicted in a pronounced manner. The god's costume is a short pleated sampot with a decorative lower border, the ornamentations and floral motifs indicated by incised lines, terminating in fishtail-shaped ornaments in a central position at the front and back. The wide decorative belt is embellished with the usual jewelled pendants set in square panels surrounded by strands of pearls.

The great king Jayarvarman VII ascended the throne of Angkor after the capital was plundered by the Chams of Vietnam. His reign (1181-1219 A.D.) marked the final outburst of Khmer artistic genius. As a devout Buddhist, he set out to restore the glory of the Khmer empire- commissioning innumerable images of the Buddhas, Avalokitesvara and Prajnaparamita, to be set up in sanctuaries throughout the empire. Since the king identified himself not only with the Buddha but also with Avalokitesvara, the cult of the latter became more popular than at any time in Khmer history. This particular torso is a classic example of the Bayon period (1177-1230 A.D.) and shows similarities with the great examples found at Preah-Khon and Angkor Thom.

The high quality fine structured stone sculpture has a smooth polished surface with a beautiful grey-greenish natural patina. This important fragmentary sculpture represents the lord of compassion, an embodiment of the spiritual and stylistic inspirations of the Bayon period. The sculpture reveals fine individual physical particularities, combining subtle and superbly voluptuous modelling with a miraculous concentration of energy. This classic work of art may be considered among the best monumental masterpieces of Bayon art, a worthy representation of the great Khmer achievements in sculpture.

Formerly in the collection of Mr. H. Loschengruber, Germany.
Formerly in the collection of Mr. A. Kiepe, Germany.


all text, images © Marcel Nies

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