A Very Fine Gilt Copper Alloy Figure Depicting Tara
Property from the Tamashige Tibet Collection
Tibeto-Chinese, Yongle period (1403—1424)
Height: 7 ½ in. (19 cm)

Acquired between 1987—2001

“The World of Mandala—Tamashige Tibet Collection,” Okura Museum of Art, Tokyo, April 1—June 19, 2005

The World of Mandala—Tamashige Tibet Collection, Okura Museum of Art, Tokyo, 2005, p. 51, cat. no. 36

The artists working in the imperial workshops during the Yongle period (1403-1424) remain anonymous, but their sculptures have now become recognised as among the most important works of art from the Buddhist world, characterised by faultless casting and rich gilding. Some fifty-four gilt bronzes bearing the inscription “da Ming Yongle nian shi” (bestowed in the Yongle era of the great Ming) have been documented in Tibetan monastery collections, see von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Hong Kong, 2001, Vol. II, pp. 1237-91. These works have survived in Tibet largely due to imperial patronage lavished on Tibetan hierarchs and monasteries during the reign of Zhu Di (1360-1424), who pursued a bountiful relationship with Tibetan religious leaders during his reign as Yongle (Perpetual Happiness) emperor.

The stylistic origin of Yongle gilt bronzes can be traced to the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) when the court espoused Tibetan Buddhism. Early fourteenth century woodblocks made for the monastery of Yangshen Yuan, Hangzhou, are evidence of a new style appearing in Chinese Buddhist art, see Karmay, Early Sino-Tibetan Art, Warminster, 1975, pp. 47-50, pls. 26, 29, 30. The gently smiling faces, full rounded figures and tiered thrones in these woodblock prints reflect the Newar styles favoured in Tibet, and introduced into China by Nepalese artists such as Aniko (1244-1306). Indeed these illustrations could almost have been used as templates for Yongle bronzes such as the Speelman enthroned Buddha, see Sotheby’s Hong Kong, October 7, 2006, lot 808, and the similar example in the British Museum, see Zwalf, Buddhism, Art and Faith, London, 1985, cat. no. 305, frontispiece.

Tara, Mother of the Victorious Ones, is worshipped by Buddhists as a saviour and liberator from samsara, the earthly realm of birth and rebirth. In Tibetan mythology the goddess is believed to have emerged from a lotus bud rising from a lake of tears shed for the suffering of sentient beings by the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, with a face “… embodying the delicacy of a million lotus blossoms …”, see Mullin, Mystical Verses of a Dalai Lama, New Delhi, 2003, p. 57. As in Tibet, the cult of Tara was popular at the Yongle court, with at least ten imperial gilt bronze examples remaining in published collections, including one formerly in the Usher P. Coolidge Collection, see Karmay, Early Sino-Tibetan Art, Warminster, 1975, p. 88, pl. 56; one in the Art Institute of Chicago, see von Schroeder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, Hong Kong, 1981, p. 517, pl. 144D; one in the Chang Foundation, see Spencer, Buddhist Images in Gilt Metal, Taipei, 1993, p. 111, pl. 48; two in the Berti Aschmann Foundation at the Rietberg Museum, see Uhlig, On the Path to Enlightenment, Zurich, 1995, pp. 146-8, nos. 92-3; two in Tibetan monastery collections, see von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculpture in Tibet, Hong Kong, 2001, pp. 1276-8, pls. 356C-6F; one in the Palace Museum, Beijing, Splendours from the Yongle (1403-1424) and Xuande (1426-1435) Reigns of China’s Ming Dynasty, 2010, p. 247, pl. 120; and the Speelman Tara, see Sotheby’s Hong Kong, October 7, 2006, lot 806.