The present figure of Buddha Vajrasana is an exceptional example of Central Tibetan images of the fifteenth century, generally considered the high point of Tibetan bronze image casting. With his right hand, the Buddha touches the ground in the gesture of bhumisparshamudra, asking the earth to bear witness to the truth of his teachings. His elongated earlobes, weighed down by the heavy earrings of his former princely life, represent his rejection of worldly goods. His close-fitting sanghati, with delicately incised hems, is draped over his left shoulder, leaving the right shoulder bare. Often confused with the tathagata Akshobhya, the present representation of Shakyamuni with a vajra resting before him refers to the moment when the historical buddha attained enlightenment. Bodhgaya, the site where Shakyamuni attained enlightenment, was originally referred to as Vajrasana, and Himalayan sculptors often used the vajra as a visual symbol for this location.
The present work displays aspects of the influence of the Nepalese style of sculpture on the bronze image making of Central Tibet, while also demonstrating the development of signature ideas within Tibet. The Nepalese influence can be found in the lithe, yet muscular physiognomy of the Buddha’s body, with broad shoulders, thick tapering arms, and a defined chest, all revealed by the diaphanous sanghati. The articulation of the lower garment beneath the sanghati at the waist, with a slightly undulating silhouette, is also characteristic of Nepalese sculpture. While the aquiline nose is commonly found in Nepalese sculpture, the eyes and mouth are more characteristic of images from Central Tibet, as is the elongated ushnisha.
The double-lotus base is noteworthy for its somewhat vertical profile, with very little tapering at the waist. Many Tibetan gilt-bronze images that date from this time have a noticeably narrow-waisted profile, with the notable exception of bronzes associated with the monastery of Densatil; see, for example, the 14th-century Tibetan gilt-bronze figure of Buddha Shakyamuni sold at Sotheby's New York, 22 March 2018, lot 1036. The present figure differs slightly from the Densatil examples in that the length of the lotus petals is more elongated than those found on the bases of Densatil-style figures, and of course lacks the rectangular plinth below the lotus base. A closer comparable, both in relation to the lotus base and to the figure holistically, is a gilt-bronze figure of Buddha Vajrasana, dated to the 14th century, illustrated by U. Von Schroeder in Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, vol. II, Hong Kong, 2001, p. 1063, fig. 271D, and illustrated below.