The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara Seated in Royal Ease

Period: Angkor period

Date: late 10th–early 11th century

Culture: Cambodia

Medium: Copper alloy, silver inlay

Dimensions: H. 22 3/4 in. (57.8 cm); W. 18 in. (45.7 cm); D. 12 in. (30.5 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Purchase, The Annenberg Foundation Gift, 1992

Accession Number: 1992.336


Unlike the hieratic, frontal, and often powerful images that typify many Southeast Asian sculptures, this figure of Avalokiteshvara is portrayed in a less formal position, turning subtly from a frontal axis with his left shoulder slightly raised. From every point of view the sculptural forms are interesting. The sculptor adapted the pose from the traditional posture of royal ease often used to depict deities in South Asian art. Prana (the breath of life) fills the body and pulls the skin taut so that the forms seem to flow into one another with no interruption of anatomical detail. The smooth bronze surfaces reflect light, further emphasizing the sculptural volumes. Although the sense of muscle and bone has been downplayed, the figure looks completely natural, an effect partly attributable to the bodhisattva's arresting expression and the almost portraitlike quality of his face. His eyes, which almost but never quite confront the viewer, and the faint smile on his lips create a mood of serenity and gentleness perfectly suited to Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion. He is identified by the tiny figure of a seated Amitabha Buddha in his braided hair. The bodhisattva's gentle character is further expressed by the simplified, smooth, and flowing forms. Another pleasing element is the way the raised details of the necklace, arm adornments, and coiffure contrast with the smooth surfaces of the bronze. Originally glass inlays would have enlivened the hollowed-out eyebrows, pupils, mustache, and beard. The figure is one of the finest surviving large Khmer bronzes, of which fewer than fifty remain.