From Delhi to Toronto to New York City – The Buddha of Infinite Life

by Anthony Wu

I have been involved in the Asian art world for almost twenty years now – as an appraiser, a consultant, and an auction house specialist. And even though the number of Asian art objects I have researched and reviewed have been in the hundreds-of-thousands, there are numerous pieces that memorably stand out.

One of these is this large and magnificent 15th/16th Century Tibetan gilt bronze sculpture of Amitayus, the Buddha of Infinite Life.

I remember this project very fondly. It was 2017 and just two years after I left my role as an Asian art specialist at a Toronto-based auction house. I was still trying to establish myself as an Asian art appraiser and had recently signed on as a member of the Canadian Association of Personal Property Appraisers.

I received a call from a colleague in the art insurance business, and was told that there was an elderly couple who needed their collection of Himalayan artworks appraised. For those not familiar, the Himalayas includes countries like Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Kashmir. The artwork from this region consists mostly of Buddhist paintings, sculptures and ritual objects.

During the visit I learned that the owner, in addition to being a Canadian World War II naval veteran, later became a diplomat where he served as the High Commissioner of Canada to Sri Lanka (1960-1964), and then the High Commissioner to India and Ambassador to Nepal (1967-1972).

This sculpture of Amitayus was gifted to the owner by Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987) in 1971 Nepal. He was a well-known scholar and yogi, and was appointed Supreme Head of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

This present figure of Amitayus is outstanding in its casting and refined details. At almost 40 cm high, he is seated gracefully in lotus position with hands in mediation. The figure has a serene face and downcast eyes, giving the sense of deep benevolence. The high crown is extremely well-cast, and the numerous turquoise inlays adds to its beauty.

After completing the appraisal, the family wished to sell some of their items. And two years after taking on the project, the Amitayus sculpture made it down to Sotheby’s New York where it was one of the highlights of their Indian, Himalayan & South East Asian Works of Art auction in March 2019.

Here I am with the Amitayus sculpture at Sotheby’s New York, during the March 2019 Asia Week previews.

At the auction, this magnificent figure of Amitayus fetched an incredible USD 325,000 including auction fees!