Antiquities, Archive, Fine Art, Southeast Asian Art

Rare and Important Buddha Statue In Gilded Copper
Nepal, Early Malla Period, 13th Century
Height: 21,5 cm. (8 ½ in.)

EUR 300,000 – EUR 500,000

Price realised EUR 428,400 at Christie's: Art d'Asie, Paris, 13 June 2024

The figure presented here stands as a quintessential example of Newari gilt-copper craftsmanship, hailing from the earliest years of the Malla period, widely acclaimed as the zenith of Nepalese artistic achievement. Within the Kathmandu Valley, the Newaris, revered as master metal casters, garnered widespread acclaim for their skills, attracting patrons from distant realms, including the imperial workshops of the Yuan dynasty in Beijing.

Following the cherished tradition of Nepalese artisans, this figure underwent fire-gilding, a meticulous process blending gold powder and mercury to create a paste, delicately applied and fused to the metal surface through controlled heat. The result is a resplendent, shimmering gilding adorning the sculpture, while beneath, the metal bears an exceptionally high copper content, a hallmark of Newari metalwork, imparting a gentle, warm brown patina.

Representing the early Malla period, spanning from the latter half of the twelfth century to the fifteenth century, this sculpture epitomizes the period's hallmark traits: robust musculature and intricate ornamentation. Aesthetic refinement defines the era, with figures characterized by graceful proportions, delicate hands, and finely chiseled facial features.

This work stands as a consummate embodiment of the fully developed early Malla style, with its figure boasting broad, dignified shoulders and a slender, tapered waist. Adorned with a diaphanous robe intricately inscribed with floral motifs and beading along its edges, the figure's countenance captivates with its gentle bow-shaped mouth, aquiline nose, heavy-lidded eyes, and elegantly arched brows. Notably, the forehead bears the distinctive urna, represented as an inlaid teardrop.

Early Malla works are rare amongst the wider compendium of Nepalese art history, including very few images of seated Shakyamuni such as the present example. Another slightly larger gilt-copper figure of Crowned Buddha (26 cm. high), dated to the fourteenth-century, was sold at Christie’s New York, 19 March 2014, lot 1010 ($509,000). More recently, a larger early Malla-period figure of Buddha (31.2 cm high), was sold at Christie's Paris, 23 December 2023, lot 198 (€730,800).