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A highly important and very rare malla-style gilt-bronze and...
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A HIGHLY IMPORTANT AND VERY RARE MALLA-STYLE GILT-BRONZE AND SILVER-INLAID SEATED FIGURE OF BUDDHA SHAKYAMUNI\n\nTIBET, 13TH-14TH CENTURY\n\nThe majestic deity is superbly cast seated in dhyanasana with his hands in bhumisparsa mudra, wearing an intricately executed patchwork robe over his left shoulder with silver-inlaid beaded rims, the robe gathered in cascading folds at the shoulder and at his ankles, his rounded face with downcast eyes, bow-shaped mouth flanked by long pendulous ear lobes, his hair arranged in tight curls rising to a domed ushnisha, richly gilt overall, the figure retains the original consecrated materials sealed with a gilt base plate incised\n\nwith a lotus flowerhead.\n\n15¾ in. (40 cm.) high
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A GILT-BRONZE SEATED FIGURE OF SHAKYAMUNI

By Luo Wenhua

The figure of Shakyamuni is one of the most widely represented ubjects in Buddhist art. Shakyamuni with his hand in bhumisparsha mudra, calling the earth to witness, is the most popular form of Buddha in East India, Nepal and Central Tibet. This is because Bodh Gaya in Bihar of East India is where the historical Buddha attained enlightenment. The stone platform on which he entered nirvana, the bodhi tree under which he sat, and the Mahabodhi Pagoda are all objects of veneration for Buddhists around the world. The iconography inside the pagoda is the same Buddha in bhumisparsha mudra. Even as time passes and after countless renovations and rebuilding, this iconography still stands as one of the most sacred forms of Buddha. Pilgrimage became a lasting tradition soon after Buddha’s passing, and this includes prostration in front of sacred objects. This resulted in religious practitioners working closely with artists in the creation of these objects. Since Bihar is close to Nepal and Central Tibet, this form of Buddha became the de facto choice in the representation of Buddha.

The current Buddha is made of gilt bronze. The gilding is very thick and has a deep tone, in contrast to the thin and bright gilding of Nepalese examples. The hair of the Buddha is a collection of dense high-relief spirals, and painted blue by mixing ground lapis lazuli with animal glue, in keeping with the canonical description of Buddha where it is noted that he has ‘purplish blue curled hair’. He has a gilt protrusion on top of his head, the ushnisha, which is prominently represented here. He has a very broad, curved forehead, on which a turquoise urna can be seen. His two eyebrows are lightly indicated with curved lines, above downcast eyes in meditation. The nose is thin and straight, and the lips gently smiling. He has a prominent mental point, elongated earlobes, and three lines around his neck – these are all prescribed features of the Buddha. The Nepalese influence is most noticeable on the face of the current figure: the thin curved eyebrows, broad forehead, narrow chin, and pea-pod shaped eyes combine to form the gentle countenance that exudes the elegance and ease of a young aristocrat. However, the turquoise urna and the prominent mental point are Tibetan characteristics that betray its origin.

He has broad shoulders and a robust chest, with raised pectoral muscles. This is a new style adopted by Nepalese artists and characteristic of Tibetan Buddhist iconography. This new style can be seen on the thangka of Phags-pa in the Tibet Museum, and the murals of the Buddha of Five Directions in the Kangyur Lhakang in Shalu Monastery. These are all dated to the first half of the 14th century, and can be a benchmark in the dating of the current figure.

The Buddha is wearing a patchwork robe, and the seams between the fabric are indicated with beading, some of which is decorated with inlaid silver that is slightly proud of the surface. This very unusual feature shows the creativity of the craftsman in creating a new design. Both the back and the front are beautifully finished, a Tibetan characteristic in contrast with the Nepalese style, where the backs of figures are often left rough. The patchwork robe is a feature of Han-Chinese Buddhism that is not used in Tibet, where single-cloth robes are prevalent. This type of robe came to Tibet through the cultural exchanges between Tibet and the courts of the Song and Yuan dynasties. Although Tibetan monks do not wear patchwork robes, they frequently appear on Buddhist figures of this period.

The current figure is sealed with a base plate which is simply decorated with an eight-petalled lotus, instead of the viśvavajra or the yin-yang symbols frequently seen in the later periods. The eightpetalled lotus is clearly asymmetrical, a type frequently appears on 14th century murals in Shalu Monastery, and further proof of the dating of this figure. From X-ray images, there are small sutra scrolls in the cavity of the figure, a unique consecration method only seen in Tibet.

The base of the current figure was cast separately to facilitate its manufacture. However, this type of bases are often lost, such is the case here.

To conclude, this is a Tibetan bronze figure that has been heavily influenced by Nepalese style. It is in very good condition, and its casting shows a high degree of sophistication and refinement, especially with its silver-inlay technique, a uniquely Tibetan tradition. This is an important masterpiece from early 14th century Tibet.

PROPERTY FROM A WEST COAST PRIVATE COLLECTION

While almost the entire figure is fire gilt, in which mercury is used to adhere gold to the bronze surface beneath, the beaded hems of

the robes on the front of the figure are picked out in silver inlay. Although mixed silver and gilt decorated figures were often found

in the earlier bronze casting centres of North India, including during the Pala period, they are incredibly rare for this early period

of Tibetan art. Such a technique requires masterful expertise, and this example embodies the virtuosity of the Tibetan bronze casters

of the 14th century.

Compare the present figure with a related but smaller figure, originally in the Pan-Asian Collection and personal collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth and now in a private collection (fig. 1). The Ellsworth figure, despite depicting a crowned Buddha, is remarkably similar in terms of sculptural decoration and style. The figure is dressed in a patchwork robe, with raised beaded hems in both silver and gold, and with an incised leaf pattern similar to that of the present example. A Chinese woodblock print from the 13th/14th century shows that this iconography of Buddha with patchwork robe was a very popular subject at the time and was already well known in China (fig. 2). While the Ellsworth figure is in silver, the exposed skin and face of the figure was originally covered in cold gold, meaning the original effect would have been one of shimmering contrast between the silver and gold areas. The present figure magnifies that contrasting effect by eschewing the cold gold for luminous fire gilding. Apart from the Ellsworth example, few other works of Himalayan sculpture that employ both gold and silver are known.

A GILT-BRONZE SEATED FIGURE OF SHAKYAMUNI

By Luo Wenhua

The figure of Shakyamuni is one of the most widely represented ubjects in Buddhist art. Shakyamuni with his hand in bhumisparsha mudra, calling the earth to witness, is the most popular form of Buddha in East India, Nepal and Central Tibet. This is because Bodh Gaya in Bihar of East India is where the historical Buddha attained enlightenment. The stone platform on which he entered nirvana, the bodhi tree under which he sat, and the Mahabodhi Pagoda are all objects of veneration for Buddhists around the world. The iconography inside the pagoda is the same Buddha in bhumisparsha mudra. Even as time passes and after countless renovations and rebuilding, this iconography still stands as one of the most sacred forms of Buddha. Pilgrimage became a lasting tradition soon after Buddha’s passing, and this includes prostration in front of sacred objects. This resulted in religious practitioners working closely with artists in the creation of these objects. Since Bihar is close to Nepal and Central Tibet, this form of Buddha became the de facto choice in the representation of Buddha.

The current Buddha is made of gilt bronze. The gilding is very thick and has a deep tone, in contrast to the thin and bright gilding of Nepalese examples. The hair of the Buddha is a collection of dense high-relief spirals, and painted blue by mixing ground lapis lazuli with animal glue, in keeping with the canonical description of Buddha where it is noted that he has ‘purplish blue curled hair’. He has a gilt protrusion on top of his head, the ushnisha, which is prominently represented here. He has a very broad, curved forehead, on which a turquoise urna can be seen. His two eyebrows are lightly indicated with curved lines, above downcast eyes in meditation. The nose is thin and straight, and the lips gently smiling. He has a prominent mental point, elongated earlobes, and three lines around his neck – these are all prescribed features of the Buddha. The Nepalese influence is most noticeable on the face of the current figure: the thin curved eyebrows, broad forehead, narrow chin, and pea-pod shaped eyes combine to form the gentle countenance that exudes the elegance and ease of a young aristocrat. However, the turquoise urna and the prominent mental point are Tibetan characteristics that betray its origin.

He has broad shoulders and a robust chest, with raised pectoral muscles. This is a new style adopted by Nepalese artists and characteristic of Tibetan Buddhist iconography. This new style can be seen on the thangka of Phags-pa in the Tibet Museum, and the murals of the Buddha of Five Directions in the Kangyur Lhakang in Shalu Monastery. These are all dated to the first half of the 14th century, and can be a benchmark in the dating of the current figure.

The Buddha is wearing a patchwork robe, and the seams between the fabric are indicated with beading, some of which is decorated with inlaid silver that is slightly proud of the surface. This very unusual feature shows the creativity of the craftsman in creating a new design. Both the back and the front are beautifully finished, a Tibetan characteristic in contrast with the Nepalese style, where the backs of figures are often left rough. The patchwork robe is a feature of Han-Chinese Buddhism that is not used in Tibet, where single-cloth robes are prevalent. This type of robe came to Tibet through the cultural exchanges between Tibet and the courts of the Song and Yuan dynasties. Although Tibetan monks do not wear patchwork robes, they frequently appear on Buddhist figures of this period.

The current figure is sealed with a base plate which is simply decorated with an eight-petalled lotus, instead of the viśvavajra or the yin-yang symbols frequently seen in the later periods. The eightpetalled lotus is clearly asymmetrical, a type frequently appears on 14th century murals in Shalu Monastery, and further proof of the dating of this figure. From X-ray images, there are small sutra scrolls in the cavity of the figure, a unique consecration method only seen in Tibet.

The base of the current figure was cast separately to facilitate its manufacture. However, this type of bases are often lost, such is the case here.

To conclude, this is a Tibetan bronze figure that has been heavily influenced by Nepalese style. It is in very good condition, and its casting shows a high degree of sophistication and refinement, especially with its silver-inlay technique, a uniquely Tibetan tradition. This is an important masterpiece from early 14th century Tibet.

PROPERTY FROM A WEST COAST PRIVATE COLLECTION

origin

TIBET, 13TH-14TH CENTURY

lot_number

2804

provenance

Benny Rustenburg, Amsterdam, acquired prior to 1980

Acquired from above in 1989


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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