The profound perfection of wisdom
Gods galore featured in the sale of Soame Jenyns’s Oriental art collection as well as a memento of a Christian saint
HOLY TRINITY, Bottisham, midway between Cambridge and Newmarket, is a fine church with several particularly appealing monuments, notably to members of the Alington (or Allington) and Jenyns families. I wrote about some of the 17th-century Alingtons here (October 25, 2017) when Cheffins sold a number of their family portraits.
I mention them again only to point to the charming 1638 monument to Leonard and Dorothea, who died in childhood: ‘These the world’s strangers were, not here to dwell. They tasted, liked it not, and bade farewell.’
Close to them is a splendid double monument for Sir Roger Jenyns (1663–1740) and his second wife, Elizabeth Soame, wearing elaborate night clothes and taking each other’s hand as if about to rise from a couch to meet their Maker. They appear to have been reading as they awaited resurrection.
Two centuries later, their Bottisham Hall estate was inherited by Soame Jenyns (1904–76), the great authority on Chinese ceramics and paintings who was assistant keeper of Oriental antiquities at the British Museum. He was a collector as well as a scholar and his property contributed much to Christie’s sales during Asian Art London at the beginning of last month.
The major pieces were distributed among other properties in the sessions in the rooms, but there was also an online sale of supposedly lesser-value Jenyns items. The whole operation made his heirs well over £8.6 million.
By far the largest contribution was made by one item, which had been estimated at up to £200,000, although the auctioneers had come to realise that it would do rather better than that. This was a 10¼in-high gilt-bronze figure of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion (Fig 1), who hears the cries of the afflicted and works tirelessly for them and is known in China as Guanyin.
A Bodhisattva is one who aspires to Buddhahood, but, more specifically, a representation of the future Buddha in his previous life and the Dalai Lama is an emanation of Avalokiteśvara.
Naturally, it has always been a very popular subject. This one carried the reign mark of the Emperor Xuande (1426–35) and was exquisitely modelled in a Nepali-tibetan style.
The graceful figure was hollowcast and it was possible to establish by radiography that it contains a scroll with other votive papers and beads.
In the event, the numinous beauty of the figure carried the price to £1,928,750, the highest of the week of sales.
The online Jenyns sale produced a number of upsets for the estimators, both up and down. One of the pleasant features of a large collection such as this, and the opportunity offered by online selling, is that cheaper lots may be included than would
Fig 1: Figure of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. £1,928,750
Fig 2 left: Japanese lacquer items. £250. Fig 3 right: Chinese Yixing teapots by Shao Weixin, Yu Xian, Shao Zhenglai and Li Heng. £47,500