Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

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Figure of the Buddha Sakyamuni


    • First floor | Room 32 | India from 600

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  • Early Himalayan Art by Amy Heller

    Early Himalayan Art

    The Buddha stands serenely in a subtly flexed posture, his right hand raised in the abhaya gesture of protection, and left hand holding the edge of his robe. This classic representation reflects the elegant proportions and diaphanous robe type of the Sarnath aesthetic tradition, which was introduced into Nepal in the Licchavi period and persisted there long after. The upper robe covers both shoulders, falling symmetrically in gentle stylized folds at the ankles. The simplicity of the treatment of the robe emphasizes the Buddha’s strong and graceful body, enhancing the contours of his abdomen and hips. The folds of the robes and smooth modelling of the body are reminiscent of stone standing Buddha images carved at Kathmandu in the ninth to tenth century [1]. The head with its raised spherical curls and ushnisha with a flat jewel finial, the broad planes of the face, and fine features also recall several cast Buddha images attributed to tenth- to eleventh-century Nepal [2]. The body is less slim than the tenth-century examples, suggesting a date in the eleventh to twelfth century.

    Weldon and Casey Singer have previously associated this sculpture with Kathmandu Valley productions of the eleventh to twelfth century, remarking that the copper alloy and colour of the gilding conform to known models [3]. They emphasize however that standing Buddhas from Nepal always display the varada not the abhaya gesture (see cat. 31 for a Tibetan example inspired by Nepal). Moreover, they remark on the blue pigment of the hair, an indication that the sculpture was formerly in Tibetan possession: the application of pigment to the hair and face of an image is indeed part of Tibetan Buddhist consecration practices. These factors led them to suggest that it is difficult to ascertain whether the original patrons of this work were Nepalese or Tibetan. While Nepalese sculptures are often as elaborately modelled in the front as at the back, an additional element suggestive of Tibetan patronage is the largely unfinished back of this image. This feature has been remarked as characteristic of statues produced in West Tibet during the eleventh century [4]. It is striking that the famous standing Kashmiri Buddha of the Cleveland Museum is represented in precisely this icono-graphy of abhaya mudra; according to its Tibetan inscription, it was acquired by Nagaraja, a prince of West Tibet, c.1000 ad as his personal image. This iconography has remained infrequent in Tibet to the present day. Thus the example of a foreign statue of the Buddha in this specific iconography, imported to West Tibet around 1000 and venerated there, leads to the suggestion that the present Buddha was perhaps created by a Nepalese sculptor of the eleventh to twelfth century for a patron in West Tibet or the Western Himalaya, at which time it was consecrated according to Tibetan Buddhist custom [5].


    1 See Slusser, Nepal Mandala, pl. 459, for the tenth-century standing Buddha of Nakabahi, Patan, and Bangdel, Stolen Images of Nepal, pl. 35, for the Buddha of Vinchey-bahal, Patan, attributed to the ninth century.

    2 See Pal, Desire and devotion, pl. 104, for a Buddha (H. 21 cm), cast in non-gilt copper alloy, with virtually identical treatment of the hair and ushnisha, but a very high forehead; see also Zwalf, Buddhism: Art and Faith, pl. 161, for a gilt Maitreya, attributed to Nepal, tenth century (British Museum, OA 1967.7-13.1), and Pal, A Collecting Odyssey, pl. 143, for a gilt copper Akshobhya, attributed to the eleventh-century Kathmandu Valley.

    3 Weldon and Casey Singer, The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet, fig. 42, pp. 71–2.
    4 See Reedy, Himalayan Bronzes, pp. 184–5, discussing two standing Bodhisattvas (W125 and 126) cast in the Kashmiri aesthetic tradition and attributed to West Tibet.

    5 Reedy, op. cit., p. 259, pl. U331, for a standing Buddha in abhaya mudra which is attributed as ‘probably Uttar Pradesh’: it has a similar face and head to the Nepalese models, yet it is cast in leaded bronze, h. 39.4 cm (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.70.17).

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