Western Tibet, Manjushri with sword

This aspect of Manjushri seems to have been particularly popular in Western Tibet, an area which drew many artists from Kashmir and Northern India.

11th-12th century, Western Tibet, brass, private collection, on Himalayan Art Resources.

11th-12th century, Western Tibet, brass, private collection, on Himalayan Art Resources.

This is a highly individual representation of Manjushri, brandishing a short sword in his right hand and holding the stem of a lotus bud topped with a large manuscript in the other, his body heavily slanting to one side. He has marked knee caps (a feature often seen on works from Ladakh and Kashmir), his legs are in a rigid pose typical of Western Tibet, the feet seem unfinished. His low crown is held in place with short ribbons flying upwards. He is adorned with a long garland and a broad sash going across his chest. His dhoti, longer on one side (a West Tibetan feature) is held in place by a matching belt. He stands on a rough imitation of the Indian Pala-style lotus base. There is a strikingly similar figure at the Ashmolean Museum, holding a conch shell instead of a sword (seen in a previous post).

12th century, Western Tibet, Manjushri, brass, private collection on Himalayan Art Resources.

12th century, Western Tibet, Manjushri, brass, private collection on Himalayan Art Resources.

Here, the bodhisattva has a taller slender body, his waist leaning  slightly to one side. The legs are  rigid and the feet rather square. His low crown is decorated with very large bows typical of Western Tibet and inspired by North Indian works, along with the festooned belt.

12th century, Western Tibet, Manjushri, brass, photo by Christie's.

12th century, Western Tibet, Manjushri, brass, photo by Christie’s.

The harmonious and realistic body proportions of this sculpture, the graceful movements and the shape of the base and mandorla (which may not be the original ones) are reminiscent of Pala India.  The lotus flower is very large, even for West Tibetan standards.

12th century, Western Tibet, Ngari district, Manjushri, brass, at the Jokhang, photo by Ulrich von Schroeder.

12th century, Western Tibet, Ngari district, Manjushri, brass, at the Jokhang, photo by Ulrich von Schroeder.

This masterpiece shows Manjushri wearing a tall crown with a moon crescent at the front, a short dhoti held in place with a belt, a thin celestial scarf with rounded ends, anklets, bracelets, armbands and necklaces, all of which is incised with geometrical patterns. Even the small sword which he holds over his right shoulder (rather than brandishing it above his head) has been decorated this way. His stiff body with unrealistic proportions and square feet is typical of West Tibetan works of the 11th-12th century. This type of crown and short, richly incised dhoti show an influence from Kashmir (Jammu and Kashmir in particular) whereas the facial features, especially the broad nose and fleshy lips, and the shape of the scarf are proper to earlier Himachal Pradesh sculptures. The flaming mandorla behind him is decorated with incised flames, scrolled vegetation and makaras at the bottom (mythical creatures with an elephant trunk), and thick beading.  The stem of the lotus in his left hand bears incisions that match his belt, the hem of his garment, the hilt of his sword and most of his jewellery.

There is a very similar piece (shown in a previous post), also from the Ngari district, at the Rubin Museum of Art (see the Himalayan Art Resources website) labelled “10th century”. It seems unlikely that two centuries separate the two items but we know that dating is more often a guess than a certainty (and it may be that one of the two has been mislabelled).

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