11. Peacock Vahana
Tibeto-Chinese, 15th century
Gilt Bronze, cast in the lost wax method
Height 40.1 cm
Originally this peacock would have served as the vahana or vehicle of the cosmic Buddha Amithaba. The peacock is traditionally an enemy of venomous creatures such as the snake and scorpion. In Buddhism its beautiful colours and train plumage represent the transmutation of that venom into the nectar of wisdom or accomplishment. A group of three peacock feathers symbolizes the transmutation of the five poisons of ignorance, desire, aversion, pride and jealously into ‘the Five Buddha Wisdoms’, while the ‘eye’ of the peacock feather represents wisdom and its radiating golden strands stand for the myriad skilful means of the Buddhas.
This peacock stands upright with its tail raised and its wings lifted and outstretched. The soft feathers on the legs are finely delineated in engraved patterns, while the wings and the eyes of the tail are cast in relief. The two tendrils that emerge from the sides of the lotus on which the bird stands add structural support to the sculpture. The triangular motif running along the lower rim of the pedestal beneath the single row of large lotus petals is unusual but it does appear on other fifteenth-century sculpture including the Yongle mark and period statues in Tibetan monastery collections.
This gilt copper peacock is not only very rare but also extremely animated, with beady eyes that seem to dart about and a beak that is open in mid-cry, while the raised tail and outstretched wings create a sense of rhythmic power and dynamic force. Although there is no evidence that this was an imperial commission, the superb quality of the alloy and gilding and the masterful workmanship suggest a similar fifteenth-century date for this lively sculpture.
Private collection, France, before 1993.
Private collection Switzerland, 1993-2005.
Collection Mr R. de Niet, Belgium, 2005-2015.
J. Van Alphen, Cast for Eternity, Bronze Masterworks from India and the Himalayas in Belgian and Dutch Collections, Ethnographic Museum, Antwerp, 2004, pp. 224-225, fig. 79.
The Sacred Breath, The Cultural Heritage of India, The Himalayan Mountains and Southeast Asia, Marcel Nies Oriental Art, Antwerp, 2005, pp. 48-49.
Karma, The Sculptural Heritage of Asia, Marcel Nies Oriental Art, Antwerp, 2015, pp. 47-48.
A.K. Gordon, The Iconography of Tibetan Lamaism, New York, 1958, p. 77.