A Rare Gilt-Copper Figure of Vajrapani

A Rare Gilt-Copper Figure of Vajrapani

Standing, subtly swaying to the left, the right hand in front of the chest and the left near the thigh holding a vajra, dressed in a fine dhoti and a beautiful set of jewelry, the upper body uncovered, the head crowned with an ornate tiara with three florets in front of a high elaborate bun, the face in meditation, wooden base

27.6 cm, 10⅞ in.

Details

  • Title : A Rare Gilt-Copper Figure of Vajrapani
  • Year : 9th-10th century
  • Classification : Sculpture
  • Medium : Gilt Copper
  • Dimension : 27.6 cm, 10⅞ in
  • Accession No : LOT 36
  • Country/ Geo-location : Nepal
  • Period : Licchavi (ca 400-879) or early Transitional period (ca 880-1200)
  • Museum : Sotheby’s
  • Status : SOLD IN AUCTION (11th December 2020)
  • Lot sold : 138,600 EUR
  • Estimate : 60,000 - 80,000 EUR
  • Condition Report : A halo of flames should normally encircle the head of this rare statue but is here broken and missing. There is a ridge across the back of the shoulders and small repairs in the cast that indicate the break. The sash and the lower part of the legs have also been repaired, possibly a result of the same accident (the lower left leg is truncated and the foot replaced, the right foot is original). There is some rubbing and expected surface wear as visible on the photos. The figure retains traces of the original fire gilding. However there are some remains of polychrome on the surface as well suggesting that the statue has probably been in Tibet at some stage where the ritual application of paint is common.
  • Catalogue note : The bodhisattva stands in graceful counterpoise (tribhanga) with right leg bent slightly at the knee and a gentle sway of the left hip. The elegant stance is a hallmark of Nepalese sculpture from the Kathmandu Valley during the Licchavi and Transitional periods, in a style derived ultimately from classical Indian Gupta (4th-6th c) and early Pala period (8th-12th c) works such as a ca. seventh or eighth century eastern Indian stele of a standing Vajrapani in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, see Rob Linrothe, Ruthless Compassion, London, 1999, p. 36, pl. 15. Vajrapani is considered to be a protector of the Buddha and has appeared in Buddhist sculpture since the Kushan empire (2nd-4th c). This rare and early Nepalese statue of Vajrapani is cast in unalloyed copper according to ancient Newar foundry traditions, and retains traces of the original fire gilding: remains of polychrome on the surface suggests that the statue has been in Tibet where the ritual application of paint is common. Vajrapani’s right hand is raised in the gesture of reassurance (abhaya mudra), with the eponymous vajra sceptre held in the lowered left hand: cf. a Nepalese standing Vajrapani dated seventh to ninth century, see Han Yong, compiler, Gems of Beijing Cultural Relics Series: Buddhist Statues I, Beijing, 2001, p. 94, pl. 52. The iconography of the two statues is identical and the style similar, with only minor differences in detail such as the earring type: the Beijing Vajrapani wears a matching pair of lotus-form earrings while the present example has a similar lotus-form earring at the right ear and a large hoop suspended from the left. This asymmetric earring style, possibly based on contemporary royal fashion, is a common feature of early Nepalese and Indian sculpture: cf. similar earrings on a ninth or tenth century Nepalese gilt copper standing Indra in the Qing Palace, see The Palace Museum, Cultural Relics of Tibetan Buddhism Collected in the Qing Palace, Beijing, 1992, p. 83, pl. 55, and the early Pala period stele of Vajrapani in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Linrothe, op. cit: cf. also the style of wrapped metal arm bands on the Pala stele and the Nepalese gilt copper Vajrapani in Beijing. The pronounced webbing between fingers and thumb, seen particularly on the raised right hand of the Vajrapani, is one of the signs (lakshana) of an enlightened being and is prominently depicted in early Indian and Nepalese sculpture: the webbing becomes less conspicuous in later works. The open-pronged style of the vajra in the left hand is typical of early Nepalese interpretations of the ritual implement: cf. the vajra in the hands of both the Vajrapani and the Indra in the Beijing collections mentioned above. A halo of flames encircles the heads of the two Beijing statues but is broken and missing from the present example, where a ridge across the back of the shoulders indicates the break: the sash at the lower right leg is damaged and truncated, possibly a result of the same accident.