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A rare silver-inlaid bronze figure of Prajnaparamita
A rare silver-inlaid bronze figure of Prajnaparamita


A rare silver-inlaid bronze figure of Prajnaparamita
Kashmir or Western Tibet, 10th/11th century
Seated in dhyanasana on a waisted plinth, her lower right hand in vitarkamudra, her lower left in her lap and her upper hands holding a manuscript and vajra, dressed in ornately incised robes and adorned with various jewelry and the sacred thread, the face with silver-inlaid eyes and finely arched brows surmounted by a mitered crown
9 in. (22.8 cm.) high
Private collection, Taiwan, acquired in 1999
Private collection, Switzerland, acquired in 2006
A. Heller, Tibetan Buddhist Art (Chinese language), 2008, p. 38, cat. no. 1-20
Himalayan Art Resources (himalayanart.org), item no. 30558

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Lot Essay

Prajnaparamita, meaning "The Perfection of Wisdom," is a concept of Mahayana Buddhism developed as early as the 3rd century BCE. As stated in various sutras, the principle idea of Prajnaparamita is that all things are actually constructed thoughtforms. During the Pala period in Northeastern India (9th-12th centuries), the development of tantric Vajrayana Buddhism led to concepts and tenants of Buddhism being represented in anthropomorphic form. Prajnaparamita thus began to be depicted as a female bodhisattva, often holding a book symbolizing wisdom.
The spread of Vajrayana Buddhism across the Himalayas in the 10th and 11th centuries led to an increased demand for images of the aforementioned tantric deities. Kashmir was traditionally an important religious center, both for the Hindu and Buddhist faiths, and had developed an excellent bronze casting tradition. Stylistically, early Kashmiri sculpture borrowed heavily from the nearby Swat Valley, as well as the Gupta style of India. In later centuries, however, the sculptors of Kashmir had developed a distinctive style, as evinced in the present work by the fleshy torso, wide and flat facial type, jewelry types and tripartite mitered crown.
The growth of Buddhism in Western Tibet during this time coincided with a decline in patronage for Buddhist material in Kashmir. Western Tibet, which had no native bronze casting tradition, invited artisans from Kashmir and other regions to satiate the demand for religious images. The bronzes cast in Western Tibet in this early period are not characterized by any local style, but are instead wholly representative of the traditions of the foreign artisans. It is possible, therefore, that the present work could have been cast in Western Tibet by a Kashmiri craftsman, rather than in Kashmir proper. Most of the tantric bronzes cast in the Kashmiri style during this period represent the Five Tathagatas or other male bodhisattvas; representations of female deities are extremely rare.

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