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Marcel Nies

5. Buddha Vajrasana
India, Bihar
Pala 11th-12th century
Bronze, cast in the lost wax method
Height: 24cm
Buddha Vajrasana

Th vajra depicted on the double lotusthrone identifies the image as Buddha Vajrasana, celebrating the occasion of his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in the temple compound of Bodhgaya in Bihar. Seated in vajrasana, the diamond posture, Buddha holds the end of his robe in his left hand. His right hand is in gesture of bhumisparsa mudra, referring to the moment that he summoned the earth to witness his triumph over the demon Mara. Buddha’s eyes are marked with large half-hidden pupils, his elongated ears connote royalty, and a large ushnisa demonstrates his spiritual wisdom.

Indian Art had a strong influence during the early periods of Buddhism in Tibet. The present Buddha is related to a small number of similar images, including one collected in the British Museum and another in the Norton Simon Museum. Although these Buddhas were probably found in Tibet, the statues have stylistic features similar to Eastern Indian sculpture. The sophisticated and superb technical level of the casting is typical for Indian Pala sculpture. Some of the bronzes were taken to Tibet by pelgrims, or monks fleeing Muslim invasions; serving as prototypes they inspired early Tibetan Art.

Indian stylistic characteristics include the finely curly hair, the jewel finial on top of the ushnisha, and the gathered robe-end held in the left hand. Additional Pala features are the state of ectasy as expressed in the eyes by means of the deeply delineated pupils, and the locating lug protruding from the base. The fishtail pattern of the robe edging as it falls on the left shoulder and the pleated cloth emerging from the left hand are also typical Indian designs. Unlike early Tibetan bronzes, the Buddha is fully sculpted and finished at the back, with pearls and lotus leaves depicted all around the base. An additional indication to an Indian provenance is the Sanskrit inscription on a similar example exhibited in the British Museum.

This rare Buddha is in an excellent and original condition, the bronze being naturally worn through handling over centuries. The fine metal alloy has traces of gilding and its natural patina is closely related to the later Tibetan bronzes it inspired. The sculpture is a masterpiece of Pala Art, revealing perfect proportions, great balance and powerful gestures of the hands. Details are extremely finely delineated, all taking their own position. Serene in expression, the bronze is striking in its lively presence and sense of vital energy, revealing the absorbing inner power of the Buddha.

Collection Mr. Jan Miog, The Netherlands, 1980s.
Collection Mrs. Willy van Hoogstraten Fetlaer, The Netherlands, 1992–2017

Marcel Nies, Spirit of Compassion – Himalayan Images of The Past, Present and Future, Antwerpen 1995, pp. 38–39.
Etnographic Museum Antwerpen, Cast for Eternity, bronze masterpieces from Dutch and Belgian collections, pp. 76–77.

U. Von Schroeder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, Hong Kong, 1981, fgs. 38A & F.
W. Zwalf, Buddhism, Art and Faith, British Museum Publ., London, 1985, p. 134, fg. 183.
P. Pal, Asian Art at the Norton Simon Museum, Vol. 2, Art from the Himalayas & China, 2004, pp. 134-135, fg. 88

all text, images © Marcel Nies
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