Due to the Muslim invasions, Buddhists from northeast India also shifted to Nepal in the late 12th century and early 13th century. Local styles developed and exerted a strong influence on Tibetan art. Nepalese statues produced in this period had bulky torsos, a broad and slightly concave forehead, elongated earlobes and thin garments. Delicately adorned with sophisticated motifs, crowns, earrings, jewelled chains and belts were inlaid with various precious stones and silver.
Figure of Amoghapasha
Nepal, 8th–9th century
Copper with traces of gilding and pigment, H. 32 cm
The Amoghapasha is shown here in the tribhanga pose, dressed simply, including the sacred thread (upavita), antelope skin and scarf. Amoghapasha’s twelve arms are arranged in a fan shape. Unfortunately, the arms have been damaged over the years and are now nearly all displaced.
Amoghapasha is particularly popular in Nepal and is rarely encountered in Tibet. However, this image was likely worshipped in Tibet for a significant period of time, as confirmed by the traces of gold paint on the face and neck and the blue pigment in the hair.
The webbing between the fingers is one of the thirty-two physical characteristics (lakshanas) of an enlightened being. Along with the diaphanous robe, the pronounced nose and the protruding lower lip, these sculptural characteristics were derived from the ideals of the great artistic era of the Indian Gupta kings and were rendered throughout the Licchavi period (4th–9th century) in Nepal until the start of the Malla period in the 13th century.
Figure of Avalokiteshvara
Nepal, 9th–10th century
Gilt copper alloy, H. 52 cm
Collection of Zhiguan Museum
The Avalokiteshvara casts an introspective glance as he lowers his right hand in the Gesture of Granting Wishes (Varada mudra). The emergence of the Buddha Amitabha (Padmapani’s spiritual ancestor) within the central leaf of his crown solidifies his identity as the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
This poised figure of Avalokiteshvara is a classic rendition of the post-Licchavi standing bodhisattva. His overall composition, including his heftier proportions, the beaded inner ring of the halo, the asymmetrical length of his lower garment and the crossing of the sacred thread with a diagonal sash at his waist, are features consistent with Nepalese images dating to the 9th and 10th centuries.
Figure of Shakyamuni
Nepal, Kingdom of Khasa Malla, 13th century
Gilt copper alloy, H. 50 cm
Collection of Zhiguan Museum
With his right hand stretched forward in the Gesture of Touching the Earth (Bhumisparsha mudra), which symbolises the overcoming of evil forces and hindrances, Shakyamuni encapsulates the moment of his enlightenment and victory over the demon king Mara in Bodh Gaya in northeastern India. The figure is rendered with downcast eyes, which convey a disconnection from the superficial attachments and concerns of the world.
Shakyamuni’s broad torso, wide forehead and nose, and thick toes and fingers reflect the Newari traditions of the Kathmandu Valley at the beginning of the early Malla period (13th–15th century). However, the rice-grain pattern on the hems of the robe, the ruby-inlaid flowers tucked behind the ears, and the teardrop-shaped urna inlaid with turquoise are attributed to the Khasa Malla kingdom in western Nepal and western Tibet, from where Khasa kings were known to hire artists for the creation of Buddhist images.
Figure of Vajradhara
Nepal / Tibet, 16th century (crown in 19th century)
Gilt copper, H. 94 cm
The vajra and bell held in the figure’s hands symbolise compassion and wisdom. Made by Newar artisans, the entire figure is executed in the repoussé technique, except for the hands, which are cast and attached. Except for the back, this figure is richly gilded. The stand consists of a thin ‘cushion’ form of repoussé clad wood. Vajradhara is well known in Nepal, but his representations are more common in Tibet, so the figure may have been made for a Tibetan patron.
Among many larger works, or those attached to the architectural décor, repoussé, loosely defined as ‘hand-embossed’, are executed. Slabs of copper are either hammered, repeatedly turned from front to back in a bed of supporting resin or pitch or, more rarely, pounded out over wooden forms, then riveted and held together by supports. The technique has been a speciality of the Newar artisans of the Kathmandu Valley since the 7th century. The period of the 15th and 16th centuries was a high point of Nepalese repoussé work, much sought after in Tibetan monasteries as decorations on toranas, stupas, walls and doors.