Published: January 22, 2002
Symbols of Buddhism:
NEW YORK CITY – Twelve outstanding sculptures and paintings will be exhibited by the London dealers Rossi & Rossi at Dickinson Roundell Inc, 19 East 66th Street, from Monday, March 18 to Tuesday, March 26. The exhibition “Symbols of Buddhism” is timed to coincide with the International Asian Art Fair in New York.
A Nepalese gilt copper figure of Avalokitesvara (the Bodhisattva of compassion), inlaid with lapis lazuli, gems and glass, dates from around the Thirteenth Century and indicates the hand of a master Nepalese sculptor. Standing 91.4 cm high, the refined figure is richly gilded and the exquisite jewelry and the superb finish are rendered with consummate skill. Cast Himalayan standing images of this size and period are rare and this example is cast in one piece, which is rarer still.
One of the earliest pieces in the exhibition is a Central Indian red sandstone fragment dating from the Second/Third Century. It depicts the lower portion of a double-sided shalabanjika, ‘woman and tree,’ which once served as a supporting bracket on a gateway. Both sides represent tree spirits known as yakshi, ancient Indian goddesses who celebrate the feminine powers of fecundity and whose vitality brings to life the tree against which they are leaning. One figure stands on a dwarf (guhya) crouching on a rocky terrain, the other on a mythical crocodilian beast with a scaly body ending in a fanlike tail. Although only the lower torso and bare legs of the goddesses survive, the superb carving and grace of the figures make this piece very attractive.
An extremely lively and colorful painting, distemper (powdered color mixed with glue sizing or even egg yolk) on cloth, from Central Tibet dating from around the late Twelfth to early Thirteenth Century depicts Vajravarahi (Diamond Sow), symbol of freedom from ignorance. Vajravarahi is described in the Anuttarayoga Tantras of the Eleventh to early Thirteenth Century as a support for visualization practice. The talented Tibetan painter depicts the wide-eyed goddess dancing on the supine figure of a handsome man. In a shade just deeper than that of her body, a red curtain of flames provides the backdrop against which eight of her entourage dance. Behind the curtain on four sides are depictions of eight holy cremation grounds bound by rivers and the whole is framed by further dancing or seated figures. The magnificent painting which measures 81 by 60 centimeters, represents a mandala or sacred assembly associated with the goddess.
A later piece from Tibet, circa Fifteenth to Sixteenth Century, is a dramatic stone sculpture representing Panjara Mahakala, a somewhat mysterious figure sometimes referred to as ‘Lord of the Tent’ and perhaps representing a ‘Lord of Cemeteries.’ The partly gilt and painted figure with skulls decorating his headdress emits a fiery wrath – hair, eyebrows and moustache ablaze with fury, fangs and tongue exposed in rage. He cradles a large staff in his arms which his hands use a knife to pulverize bloody matter in a skullcup. Muscles bulging, he squats with his feet pressed firmly on the head and buttocks of a supine figure. At the top of this extraordinary black stone piece is the auspicious man-bird Garuda holding a snake in his beak and hands.
Another remarkable, but contrastingly peaceful object is a Chakrasamvara mandala from Seventeenth or early Eighteenth Century Mongolia made of gilt copper alloy and pigments. A beautifully incised 32 centimeter-high globe resting on a leafy base supported by an eight-sided shaft opens to reveal a perfectly proportioned eight-petalled lotus. On a platform at the center is a sculpture of Samvara and Vajravarahi surrounded by 20 members of their celestial assembly standing on the inside of the petals and four offerings in skullcups. This precision-made weighted sculpture is closely related to works produced by the celebrated Mongolian Buddhist artist-monk, Zanabazar (1635-1723), a gifted engineer who may have had a hand in the creation of the superbly crafted work.
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