3625

Details & Cataloguing

Important Chinese Art

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Hong Kong

AN EXTREMELY RARE SILVER ALLOY FIGURE OF KALACHAKRA AND VISHVAMATA
MING DYNASTY, YONGLE PERIOD
superbly and meticulously cast in the form of Kalachakra standing in dual alidhasana and in ecstatic union with his prajña Vishvamata, all atop the trampled figures of the Brahmanical gods Kama and Maheshvara, each portrayed with a kneeling female attendant, all atop a gilt-bronze lotus base with beaded edges, Kalachakra rendered with four heads and twenty-four hands depicted holding ritual weapons and implements, including a prayer-bell and a double-vajra, eighteen of the arms outstretched and two of them wrapped around the eight-armed Vishvamata, similarly depicted with slender fingers and holding ritual weapons and implements, including a vajra handle and a skull-cup, the silver alloy surface, the base sealed and incised with a double-vajra
18 cm, 7 in.
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Catalogue Note

This unique sculpture is a rare early Ming interpretation of a model originally popularised in Tibet. It depicts the Buddhist deity Kalachakra, with the semi-wrathful deity depicted in union with his prajña Vishvamata, Mother of the Universe. The deities represent one of the most complex practices of the Unexcelled Yoga Tantras in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. The Kālachakra tradition revolves around the concept of time (kāla) and cycles (chakra), teaching the practice of working with the most subtle energies within one's body on the path to enlightenment.

Kalachakra is depicted here with four heads and twenty-four arms, with his principal head and upper body symbolising great wisdom, his face representing passion. The couple represent the embodiment of wisdom and compassion, the goal of Tibetan meditational practise leading to enlightenment and salvation of sentient beings. For an exhaustive treatise on the Kalachakra Tantra see Martin Brauen, The Mandala: Sacred Circle in Tibetan Buddhism, Serindia Publications, London, 1997.

The earliest published bronze figure of Kalachakra in Tibetan art appears to be the 14th century gilt-bronze figure of Kalachakra and Vishvamata kept at Shalu monastery, illustrated in Ulrich von Schroeder, Buddhist Bronzes in Tibet, Hong Kong, 2001, Vol. II, p. 965, pl. 232C. A 15th century gilt-bronze figure of Kalachakra from the collection of John and Berthe Ford is illustrated in Marylin M. Rhie, and Robert A. F. Thurman, Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet, New York, 1996, p. 480, pl. 236, where the author argues for an Eastern Tibet provenance, on account of the more sinicised aspects of it, especially the treatment of the lotus, the slim proportions of the figures and the base itself. 

On the current sculpture, the overall form, physiognomy and attributes are very crisply cast with minute attention to detail, characteristic of the highest quality craftsmanship of early Ming foundries in Nanjing or Beijing. The Yongle Emperor is recorded as having received various empowerments including the Kalachakra initiation from the lama Shakya Yeshe after he was received at Nanjing in 1414. See Amy Heller "Homage by an Emperor: a Yung-lo Embroidery Thangka", Apollo Magazine, November 2008.

It is extremely rare to find silver on Chinese sculpture, but it is relatively frequently found on Tibetan bronzes, where it is used to denote the iconographic colour of deities such as Sitatara, the goddess of longevity, colloquially known as White Tara. Silver statues furthermore are commonly attached to gilt copper pedestals to contrast and highlight the precious metal. See, for example, a fifteenth century silver Milarepa on a gilt copper pedestal in the Nyingjei Lam Collection, illustrated in David Weldon and Casey Singer, The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet: Buddhist Art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection, London, 1999, p. 179, pl. 43. The use of silver with a contrasting gilt-copper pedestal is inspired by medieval eastern Indian Pala sculptural traditions; compare a Pala example illustrated ibid., p. 22, fig. 15.

Kalachakra is much more frequently found in painting. For a 15th century thangka of Kalachakra, see the thangka included in the exhibition, Footsteps of the Buddha: Masterworks from Across the Buddhist World, Sotheby’s, New York, 2013, cat. no. 16 (fig. 1). For later Tibetan examples in metalwork, see a gilt-bronze figure of Kalachakra ascribed to the 16th century, illustrated in Ulrich von Schroeder, Indo Tibetan Bronzes, Hong Kong, 1981, pp. 115-6, pl. 116E and 116F.

The Kalachakra deity was revered at the Imperial Qing court, and Qianlong reign-marked figures of Kalachakra are frequently found. See a figure of Kalachakra, cast in copper but inscribed with a Qianlong seven-character mark, from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, illustrated in Cultural Relics of Tibetan Buddhism Collected in the Qing Palace, Beijing, 1992, p. 221, pl. 69; one sold at Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 6th October 1945, lot 279 and now in the collection of the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, illustrated in Barbara Lipton and Nima Dorjee Ragnubs, Treasures of Tibetan Art: Collections of the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, New York, 1996, no.  35, and another similar example sold in our London rooms, 4th November 2009, lot 215.

Important Chinese Art

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Hong Kong