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

Country Life Every Week - - Art Market - Huon Mal­lalieu

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

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