Lot Content

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
A GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF VAJRAVARAHI
A GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF VAJRAVARAHI
1 More
PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF BARONESS EVA BESSENYEYThe late Baroness Eva Bessenyey was a fearless, independent woman decades ahead of her time. Born 30 March 1922 in Budapest, Hungary, Eva was trained as an artist at Smith College, and had careers both as a layout editor for the publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, and as a competitive endurance horseback rider. Baroness Bessenyey was the daughter of Baron and Baroness Gyorgy and Giselle Bessenyey. Her diplomat father was the Hungarian Secretary of State-in-exile until the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Her mother spoke several languages and was an accomplished artist. Eva came to the United States in 1947 and attended Smith College shortly after her arrival in the United States. Eva was best known for her love of travel. Wanderlust would set in and she would tell her boss at Harcourt Brace that, while she loved her job, she must leave to travel. Her boss would say, "I cannot guarantee that your desk will be here when you get back." She spent almost two years travelling through South America and the Amazon alone in the 1950s, and over the decades visited Egypt, Iran, Yemen, Nepal, Turkey, as well as most European countries. Invariably, upon her return to New York she would find her desk just as she had left it. Her love of the Middle East led her to teach herself Arabic, a challenge she enjoyed until her passing. She also spoke Hungarian, French, English, German and Spanish. Her travels fostered a love of rugs from the Middle East (a selection of which will be offered in Christie’s New York Interiors sale in August 2019) and she developed a reputation as an expert in the woven arts. She was a well-known fixture in the New York Asian Art community, and a regular presence at the New York auctions of Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian art. She was passionate about the Himalayan bronzes she collected and selected each for its charm and beauty. Every piece from her collection was carefully considered and is a testament to her keen, discerning eye and great taste. Eva had a close relationship with her stepmother, the Countess Margit Sigray Bessenyey, founded in part on their mutual love of horses. Eva trained Margit's Hungarian Warm Blood horses at Mt. Aventine in Maryland and the Bitter Root Stock Farm in Hamilton, Montana. She then participated in competitive trail rides in the United States on these horses, helping to reestablish the credentials of a breed which the Countess and her friends were responsible for saving from the devastations of World War II. Per Eva’s wishes, a portion of the sale proceeds will benefit her favored charities, Hungarian House of New York City and the Tibetan Nuns Project.
A GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF VAJRAVARAHI

NEPAL, KHASA MALLA KINGDOM, 13TH-14TH CENTURY

Details
A GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF VAJRAVARAHI
NEPAL, KHASA MALLA KINGDOM, 13TH-14TH CENTURY
4 ¼ in. (10.8 cm.) high
Provenance
Spink & Son, London, 22 April 1999

Lot Essay

This remarkable and rare gilt-copper figure of Vajravarahi is executed with the greatest possible detail for a sculpture of its size. The powerful deity’s sharp teeth and sow’s head are clearly articulated, as are the features of her skull crown, beaded festoons, severed heads, petite fingers and toes. The distinct mode of craftsmanship indicates that this was created in the Karnali Basin (what is now Western Nepal) during the reign of the Khasa Malla dynasty which spanned from sometime in the twelfth to the mid-fourteenth century.
Scholarship on this very distinct style of sculpture is limited, but extant examples compiled by Ian Alsop and Gautama Vajracharya demonstrate a style distinguished by its ornamentation, petite yet weighty physiognomy, and extravagant gilding. The figure’s bodies are modeled with compact, yet graceful features. More particularly, the high arch of Vajravarahi’s eye-brows, which nearly meet the hairline, are shared among female figures attributed to the Khasa Malla Kingdom, such as the Prajnaparamita in the Pritzker Collection, illustrated by Ian Alsop in “The Metal Sculpture of the Khasa Malla Kingdom,” Orientations, June 1994, fig. 10, and a gilt copper alloy image of Green Tara in The Walters Art Museum (acc. no. 2002, 54.3012). The Pritzker example and the current work also share the unusual feature of a painted red base.
Little is known about the Khasa Malla Kingdom aside from the insights derived from the evidence of artistic patronage and their occasional raids of the Kathmandu Valley. The consensus among scholars is that this devoutly Buddhist Kingdom was born from a tribe led into the Karnali Basin by their first king, Nagaraja in the twelfth century, and that the kings who succeeded him maintained a positive relationship with the Western Tibetan subjects under his control, as evidenced by gifts to Tibetan temples. The present sculpture is an exemplary piece of this short-lived kingdom.

Himalayan Art Resources (himalayanart.org), item no. 24491.

More from Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Works of Art

View All
View All