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Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art / A GILT COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF GREEN TARA NEPAL, EARLY MALLA PERIOD, 13TH CENTURY

拍賣品305
A GILT COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF GREEN TARA
NEPAL, EARLY MALLA PERIOD, 13TH CENTURY
2022 年 3 月 22 日,09:00 EDT
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A GILT COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF GREEN TARA

NEPAL, EARLY MALLA PERIOD, 13TH CENTURY
Himalayan Art Resources item no.4534
9 in. (23 cm) high

Footnotes

尼泊爾 馬拉王朝早期 十三世紀 銅鎏金綠度母像


Published:
Hilary Roberts (ed.), The Great Heritage: Himalayan Art through the Eyes of Art Dealers Chino Roncoroni and Iwona Tenzing, San Francisco, 2020, no.324.

Provenance:
David Tremayne Ltd, London, 1984
Michael Henss Collection, Zurich, since 1984


From the collection of Michael Henss, the esteemed Himalayan art scholar, connoisseur, and collector, this elegant representation of Tara is a unique masterpiece from the Early Malla period (1200-1482), the unquestionable zenith of the Nepalese sculptural tradition. Few can rival the breathtaking quality and sensitivity of this extraordinary bronze.


"Homage to you, Tara, whose face is like
One hundred full autumn moons gathered together,
Blazing with the expanding light
Of a thousand stars assembled."


—Excerpt from the "Praises to the Twenty-One Taras" prayer.


Tara is arguably the most popular Buddhist goddess in the Himalayas. In Tibet, she is worshipped by followers of every Buddhist sect, with her various forms found in all classes of Tantra. Her ten-syllable mantra and the short Tantra known as the 'Twenty-One Praises of Tara', spoken by the Buddha Samantabhadra, are memorized and recited by virtually all Tibetans from childhood. As suggested by Pal, she is equally favored in Nepal:

"Undoubtedly, the most popular Buddhist goddess in the Valley is Tara, the female counterpart of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. Like him she is a savior deity who protects her devotees from earthly dangers and calamities, such as fires, storms, and attacks from bandits and predatory animals... The Buddhist Tara was ultimately absorbed by the Hindus as a deity of transcendental knowledge known collectively as the Dasamahavidya, further explaining her universal popularity in the valley."
(Pal, Art of Nepal, 1985, p.32.)

The beautiful goddess sits in an open posture of 'royal ease' while tilting her head slightly with a benevolent gaze and warm smile. Above her countenance rests a crown of inset gems and rare pearls. While most representations of the goddess depict her right hand in either the symbolic gesture (mudra) of reassurance (abhaya) or generosity (varada), here she gently extends a downward facing palm in a gesture of blessing and providing sanctuary. This special iconography is reserved for depictions of a central shrine image of Tara Who Protects from the Eight Fears (Ashtamahabhaya Tara). Enlaced within the fingers of her left hand is the sinuous stem of a blossoming blue lily that is cast with consummate skill. Her superbly modelled fleshy torso transitions to a lower garment gathered in bold pleats around her thighs and shins. Her body and hair are embellished through the ritual practice of painting the skin with cold gold and the hair with ground lapis lazuli, features that indicate the idol's former veneration in Tibet. The viewer's attention will ultimately return to Tara's compassionate and captivating face, at once present and transcendent, bridging the human and divine.

Nepalese sculpture has long been hailed for its extraordinary grace and sensitivity, a stylistic leaning attributable to the Newars, an ethnic group from Nepal's Kathmandu Valley who have been transmitting their artistic expertise across generations. Renowned for being among the most accomplished artisans in Asia, the Newars were highly sought-after for major artistic projects in Tibet and China during the Early Malla period, a time corresponding with great political stability and economic prosperity in the Valley. While the Malla period (13th-18th century) is considered the "Golden Age" of Nepalese art, the Early Malla period (1200-1482) stands out as its pinnacle. As Pal has summarized:

"The Early Malla period witnessed the growth of a national consciousness in Nepal. It was a remarkable era marked by the creation of a distinctive Nepali style of architecture. In sculpture as well the works of the Malla period reflect a distinctly Nepali artistic consciousness... Overall the figures of the Early Malla period have a soft and gentle expression, especially in the slightly smiling faces, and exude a refined sensuousness that makes them particularly appealing." (ibid., p.85.)

A quintessential Newari beauty, the Henss Tara was created during this special artistic moment. She can be comfortably located within the 13th century by drawing comparisons with iconic sculptures and paintings of the time. The widely published gilt bronze figure of Durga slaying the buffalo demon at the Rubin Museum of Art (fig.1; C2005.16.11) was cast during the same period and shares several similarities with the present Tara. The 'Rubin Durga' is attributed to the 13th century partially because its samkhapatras (the tail-ends of the ribbons appearing above each ear that are used to fasten the crown) are more prominent than in Newari sculptures produced before the 12th century, yet simpler than those from the 14th century, which often display additional tassels (Vajracharya, Nepalese Seasons, 2016, pp.25, 132 & 138). The size and form of the present Tara's samkhapatras are almost identical to the Rubin Durga's. The two goddesses, though one peaceful and one semi-wrathful, have faces so alike that one would suspect they are sisters. Their slanted brows, handsome noses, and short, plump lips are hallmarks of the Early Malla style. The two also share cascading tresses, prominent earrings, and diaphanous dhotis with naturalistically rendered lavish pleats. The chakra-like incised patterns seen on the lower garment of both the present Tara and the Rubin Durga are also found on a 13th-century Nepalese Vasudhara in the Rubin Museum of Art (C2007.23.1). The Rubin Durga is frequently identified by connoisseurs of Nepalese art as one of the great masterpieces of Newari sculpture at its scale, and a close comparison of its style and grace confirms the superlative quality of the present Tara.

The celebrated 'Cleveland Tara' (fig.2)—a thangka of Green Tara in the Cleveland Museum of Art (1970.156)—is popularly considered to be one of the finest paintings by a Newari artist working in Tibet, and draws another stylistic parallel to the present Tara. Although different in medium, the two Taras closely resemble each other in proportions and posture. Each goddess is afforded a perfectly balanced soft torso, with rounded breasts and a sensuously tapered waist. Each gently looks down, with her head tilting to the right while her upper body sways slightly to the left. The blue lotuses held in their hands, with thin, pointy petals and a projecting central bud, are strikingly similar, as are the circular earrings with beaded rims and the curly locks falling on their shoulders. Both Taras also share the distinctive iconographic gesture of offering salvation, in which the goddess extends her right hand forward at a semi-downturned angle, as if to gently bless the head of a kneeling devotee. In the connoisseurship of Buddhist art, such seemingly minor variations are important considerations for assessing the overall emotional impact of a work and identifying masterpieces.

Some scholars consider the Cleveland Tara to have been painted around 1260 by Aniko (1245-1306), a legendary Nepalese artist who is remembered as the greatest of his generation (Kossak & Casey Singer, Sacred Visions, 1998, pp.144-6). Aniko was one of the Newari masters invited to Tibet in 1260 by the Sakya hierarch Phags-pa (1235-80) to construct a memorial stupa to Sakya Pandita (1182-1251). The Mongol emperor Khubilai Khan (1215-94) later summoned him to the Chinese court, where he achieved great prominence as the highest artisan-official of the Yuan dynasty. Aniko was described in the court annals as a prolific artist who constructed various temples and created numerous bronze sculptures, paintings, and textiles. Erected in 2002, a statue of Aniko now stands in the Miaoying Temple, Beijing (fig.3). Encouraged by the presumption that some of his works must have survived (and, if so, they must sit among the highest echelons of quality in the corpus of surviving painting and sculpture from the second half of the 13th century), scholars have considered the attribution of his name to several artworks. None enjoy a unanimous consensus; however, the Cleveland Tara has the broadest acceptance of an attribution to Aniko. Considering its close stylistic similarity with the Henss Tara, and that it can be convincingly argued that neither is surpassed in terms of overall quality within their respective mediums, an eventual attribution to Aniko for the Henss Tara may also be appropriate.

Few sculptures can achieve the sensitivity and elegance seen in the present Tara, a pinnacle of Newari artistic expression. The artist has masterfully rendered the fleshiness of the face and torso, the sinuous floral stem intertwined with her arm, as well as the complex jewelry with delicate inlays. Although notably smaller, a gilt bronze figure of Manjushri Namasangiti of the same caliber formerly in the Maitri Collection (fig.4; Bonhams, New York, 20 March 2018, lot 3203), also conveys the consummate quality of Early Malla masterpieces. The detailed rendition of the hands and the subtle flexion of the knuckled fingers are shared by the Henss Tara and the Maitri Namasangiti, as is the sumptuous jewelry inset with semi-precious stones – a distinctive feature of the Early Malla style that is rarely seen in sculptures before the 12th century. On the other hand, a Green Tara also formerly in the Maitri Collection (fig.5; Bonhams, New York, 20 March 2018, lot 3204) serves as a perfect foil for enumerating the superlative qualities of the present version. Comparing the Maitri Tara, one notices the perfect proportions of the Henss Tara, especially with her fuller breasts and slimmer biceps. The softer, feminine contours of her face also stand out. The treatment of the Henss Tara's jewelry is noticeably more refined, as is the more naturalistic rendition of the folds in front of her legs. The comparison helps to further demonstrate the many ways in which the present Tara is a flawless Early Malla Newari masterpiece and is therefore, by extension, one of the finest sculptural representations of the goddess from any style, region, or period.

(Please refer to our printed or digital catalog for the figures listed in this essay.)

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