Green Tara
Nepal
Ca. 17th century
Gilt and cast copper repoussé, turquoises and semi-precious stones
34 cm (13 ½ in)
Provenanace
Exhibited
Publications

Inscribed:

s’ri- s’ri- prata-pa mallana rupamati- deviya- na-amana taya-.

Placed by sri- sri-  Pratapa Malla in the name of Rupamati Devi

This sculpture of a seated Tara is an excellent example of the 15th-17th century high period of Malla repoussé craftsmanship. It was made by the great 17th c. King of Kathmandu, Pratap Malla, (r. 1641-1674) in the name of his first queen, Rupamati Devi, around the middle of the 17th century. Rupamati Devi was the daughter of the king of the princely north Bengal state of Koch Behar, Raja Bir Narayan. She is presumed to have died before a ¼ silver mohar coin was issued in her name in NS 769 (1649).

The repoussé technique has long been a specialty of the Newar artists of the Kathmandu valley, where metalworkers hold it in high esteem, for they know it to be far more difficult than cire perdue (lost wax) casting. In cire perdue, the artist works with a relatively soft and malleable material, either wax itself or clay, to create the original sculpture, which is then cast in metal; while in repoussé the artist is working directly with the metal, a process requiring strength, dexterity and great skill. The difficulty of the process has contributed to repoussé’s rarity in history, and particularly in the modern period.

Repoussé has been practiced in Nepal from the very beginning of the metalworking traditions there. The oldest known work in repoussé, the gilt copper sheath or kavaca of the great god of Changu Narayan is dated to AD 607, was fashioned just 16 years after the earliest known cast metal sculpture, the standing Buddha of 591 in the Cleveland Museum. A survey of Nepalese repoussé metal sculptures from this early beginning to the present day shows that this technique was practiced through the history of Nepalese art, although early examples are still very rare when compared with the quantities of cast metal religious statues.3 This is likely because, then as now, the number of artists working in repoussé is considerably fewer than those working lost wax castings, partially a reflection of the difficulty of the technique.

The period of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries was a high point of Nepalese repoussé work. Earlier repoussé works were executed in relief rather than entirely in the round. Many of the earliest reliefs were intended to decorate and adorn stone sculptures, or were intended as adornments or additions to temples.

In the later period of this Tara, we find fully realized three-dimensional sculptures in this technique. In addition, we find quite large sculpture, larger than the normally diminutive cast works. These sculptures were usually created entirely in the repoussé technique with the exception of the hands, which were typically cast and attached, as is the case with this sculpture. An excellent example comparable with this Tara is the lovely image, also of a Tara, in the San Francisco Art Museum.  The Tara in the Asian Art Museum is considerably larger than this Tara and is a White Tara or Saptalocana Tara, (Tara with seven eyes - having eyes on the forehead and the hands and feet aside from the normal two), while this Tara is a green Tara, without the extra eyes and with the right leg pendant rather than in full lotus.  Both images share the facial features typical of repousse sculptures of this period, an almost exactly similar treatment of the hands, and many details of finishing and ornament.

This Tara is exceptional in its workmanship and fine detail, worthy of a royal commission commemorating a queen.

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