Avalokitèshvara
Tibet
13th-14th century
Copper alloy
88.9 cm (35 in)
Provenanace
Private Collection, Switzerland, acquired 19 October 1993
Exhibited
Publications

Standing with hips swayed, his right hand extended in varadamudra and his left at his thigh, clad in a diaphanous dhoti and adorned with a pendant sash and the sacred thread, the face serene with bow-shaped mouth, aquiline nose, and downcast eyes flanked by large hoop earrings and surmounted by a foliate tiara, the hair arranged in a tall chignon and topped with a knop.

From the very start of its recorded history, Nepal has been one of the great Buddhist centre of the world. Its crucial geographic location in the Himalayas has meant that it has always acted as a liaison between the cultures of India to the south and Tibet and China to the north. The high mountains that surround the principle population centre, the Kathmandu Valley, have mostly protected the region from foreign intervention and enabled the development of rich religious traditions. Both Buddhism and Hinduism are practiced side by side with a harmony between its practitioners rarely found in other communities. While most members of the Newari artisan caste practiced Vajrayana Buddhism, they nonetheless crafted images for both Hindu and Buddhist patrons, and there is thus a syncretic style in the sculpture of Nepal, regardless of the represented deity.

Newari craftsmen were amongst the finest metalworkers in all of the Himalayas, and were sought out and commissioned by other countries with a demand for bronze images. Perhaps the most famous Newari sculptor, the teenaged Anige (1425 - 1306), was even invited to Beijing to work as the head of the imperial workshops of Yuan emperor Kublai Khan. The renown of the Nepalese bronze workers was based in part on their mastery of fire gilding, whereby red, hot gold is fused with mercury and applied to the image, creating an especially vibrant quality in the gilding. Nepalese sculptors also worked predominantly with copper, rather than brass or bronze; while less durable than those metals, the softness of the copper allowed for sense of vitality to be imbued into the cast figures.

From its start, Nepal has followed closely the cultural traditions of India directly to the south. Some of the earliest recorded rulers were in fact a transplanted Indian family, the Licchavis. After they conquered the Kathmandu Valley around 400 AD, they closely aligned themselves with the Gupta Empire. Later the Pala Empire based in Northeastern India conquered and controlled Nepal for brief periods in the 9th century and again in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Not surprisingly, the art of Nepal exhibits certain Indian stylistic elements. The Sarnath sculptural school, a product of the Gupta period, had an immense influence on Nepalese art, and the fleshy and muscular body type characteristic of that style remained influential. Equally as important in the stylistic and iconographic development of Nepalese art were the Pala period Buddhist centers in Northeastern India. Works of sculpture from these ateliers display a graceful, languid posture and a fascination with elaborate jewelry and ornamentation. The myriad rings, garlands, pendant sashes and rippling folds, and elaborately woven hair in the present bronze are all trademark developments of the Pala period.

After the destruction of the Pala Buddhist centers by conquering Muslim armies towards the end of the 12th century, Nepal was cut off from their traditional source for iconographic and stylistic development. Nepalese art from after the 12th century, therefore, exhibits very gradual change, with Newari artisans inspiring for perfection within a set stylistic canon.

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