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James Singer

9 Heath Drive
London NW3 7SN
Tel: 020 7435 5062
Fax: 020 7433 1996
Email: [email protected]

Tibet; or China
14th-15th c.; ca 1400
Papier-mache, gesso, and pigment
H: 19 cm

This superb and unusual sculpture depicts Jambhala, Buddhist god of wealth and abundance. A c. 1400 date is proffered for this work, and a provenance of Tibet or China. The style of this work combines features of Nepalese, Tibetan and Chinese traditions, and may have been produced in China during the Yuan period (1279-1368), when a Himalayan school of art flourished at the court of Khubilai Khan (1215-1294) and his successors. The Chinese produced sculpture during the Yuan in a dry lacquer technique in which cloth is laid over a clay core, to which is applied layers of lacquer. The clay core is then removed, leaving a shell of lacquered cloth.

This Jambhala is not produced in a dry lacquer, but in a related technique involving papier mache. This unusual technique involves the use of pulped paper pressed into a mold. When removed from the mold, the surface of the image is covered with gesso, fine details are sculpted and then painted. This is one of the earliest, if not the earliest, examples of this technique to come to light.

The facial features of Jambhala resemble figures in the murals at Shalu monastery in Central Tibet, specifically those done between 1307-33 by artists trained at the Yuan court under Aniko. When compared with fifteenth century Tibetan sculpture and painting, this work appears to belong to an earlier phase of the development of style. Sculpture and painting at the great temple-stupa complex at Gyantse in Central Tibet are more complex in posture, facial expression, and garment design. A late fourteenth century painting of the related deity Vaishravana, now in the Musee Guimet, Paris, supports the view that this work belongs to a phase of style before Gyantse. Facial features of Guimet ptg are closer to that in this work than are the Gyantse murals. However the figure most closely resembles a still unpublished series of paintings dated to the reign of Kublai Khan.

all text and images © James Singer

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