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Seated figure of the Buddha


    • currently in research collection

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  • Early Himalayan Art by Amy Heller

    Early Himalayan Art

    This dark bronze image of the Buddha is a very handsome one. Its diminutive size only accentuates the perfection of the casting. The face conveys a gentle attentiveness, with its slightly receding chin and very aquiline profile. The slight smile of inward rapture encourages the faithful to persevere in their spiritual quest. The thirty-two sacred marks of the supernatural body of the Buddha are represented here by the curls of the hair piled into the dome of the ushnisha, which rises to a point, and by the elongated earlobes. The urna between the eyes is less emphasized. The face has a broad forehead with a squared hairline; the eyebrows are slightly arched in relief and meet above the narrow aquiline nose. The cheeks are plump and rounded with no emphasis of the cheekbones, the planes of the face are smooth, the lips quite thin, and the jawline is somewhat square.

    Harmonious proportions appear throughout this sculpture, with its strong shoulders but slender arms and fingers, and slender waist, hips, and limbs, the latter showing no sense of muscular exertion. Great care has been taken to achieve this effect of an elegant, relaxed body, which nonetheless holds itself in rapt attention. A copper edging of three striated lines appears on the samghati (upper robe) hem at the chest and at the edge of the sleeve near the wrist. This edging is carried over to the back, both for the vertical drapery of the robe down the spine to the cushion, as well as for the upper back. The cushion appears to be decorated with a fabric bearing a design indicated by the incised carving of ten wheels enclosed by scrolling vines, which continue round to the back. At the centre of the back, this decoration is absent due to the wear of an area of nearly 4 cm, though originally it was fully finished. This wear may have been caused by a torana (arched surround) in which it was inserted. The weight of the statue indicates that it is solid cast.

    Although many examples of Licchavi seated Buddhas in stone are extant at Kathmandu, cast bronze examples are less frequent [1]. The very slender proportions and the relief edge of the garment hem of this Buddha do recall certain eighth- to ninth-century stone Buddhas and Bodhisattvas at Kathmandu [2]. An eighth-century stone Buddha published by Pal presents a similar facial type and body proportions, treatment of the hair, and a high domed ushnisha, as well as the accentuated relief of the robe hems [3]. A cast standing Lokesvara in the J. G. Ford collection has a similar dark colour, slightly rough texture of the alloy, shape of head, facial features, and raised nipples of the chest, although the waist is much thinner [4]. Also in the Ford collection, a seated Buddha attributed to the tenth to eleventh century wears a near-identical robe to that of the present Buddha, but is cast in an almost pure copper alloy, totally smooth and polished [5]. These factors suggest a ninth- to tenth-century date for the present image. The fabric pattern incised on the cushion represents the wheel of the Dharma, emblematic of the Buddha’s teachings; in cast Kashmiri sculptures attributed to c. 740, similar wheels form the design of the Buddha’s fabric cushion, while in an actual fabric, a silk samite preserved in the Abegg Foundation with an eighth- to ninth-century Carbon-14 dating, the main design represents wheels inside diamond motifs [6]. This silk has been tentatively assigned an Indian provenance. Fabric cushions with geometric or wheel of Dharma motifs often appear on ninth-century stone steles of Uma-Mahesvara from Kathmandu [7].


    1 A gilt copper seated Sakyamuni (h. 7.8 cm) attributed to c. seventh-century Nepal has the round collar of the clinging samghati and a very low ushnisha. This was formerly in the Pan-Asian collection: see Weldon, 'Tibetan Sculpture Inspired by Earlier Foreign Sculptural Styles', fig. 8. A similar robed Buddha seated in meditation on a similar cushion (h. 11 cm), attributed to Nepal c. 800, was formerly in the Heeramaneck collection: Pal, The Arts of India and Nepal, pl. 79.

    2 See Slusser, Nepal Mandala, pl. 466, for a similar seated Buddha flanked by standing Bodhisattvas, dated to the 8th–9th century.

    3 Pal, The Arts of Nepal, vol. 1, pl. 171.

    4 Pal, Desire and devotion, pl. 102.

    5 Ibid., pl. 105.

    6 Abegg Foundation, Switzerland, textile inv. 5065, studied in Heller, ‘Recent Findings on Textiles from the Tibetan Empire’.

    7 Pal, Art of Nepal, no. S8, for a stele of Uma-Mahesvara seated on a geometric-patterned bolster in the Los Angeles County Museum; Pal, The Arts of Nepal, vol. 1, pl. 134, for Uma-Mahesvara seated on a Wheel of Dharma-patterned fabric bolster, in the collection of Harold P. Ullman.

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