A COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF MAHAKALA YUNNAN, DALI KINGDOM, LATE 12TH/EARLY 13TH CENTURY
Lot 10
A COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF MAHAKALA
YUNNAN, DALI KINGDOM, LATE 12TH/EARLY 13TH CENTURY
Sold for HK$ 10,620,000 (US$ 1,360,293) inc. premium

Lot Details
A COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF MAHAKALA YUNNAN, DALI KINGDOM, LATE 12TH/EARLY 13TH CENTURY A COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF MAHAKALA YUNNAN, DALI KINGDOM, LATE 12TH/EARLY 13TH CENTURY A COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF MAHAKALA YUNNAN, DALI KINGDOM, LATE 12TH/EARLY 13TH CENTURY A COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF MAHAKALA YUNNAN, DALI KINGDOM, LATE 12TH/EARLY 13TH CENTURY A COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF MAHAKALA YUNNAN, DALI KINGDOM, LATE 12TH/EARLY 13TH CENTURY
A COPPER ALLOY FIGURE OF MAHAKALA
YUNNAN, DALI KINGDOM, LATE 12TH/EARLY 13TH CENTURY
Himalayan Art Resources item no.7843
41.5 cm (16 3/8 in.) high

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Private French Collection
    Private European Collection, acquired from the above in 2001


    Guardian of the Dali Kingdom: A Bronze Mahakala from the Dali Imperial Workshop

    Essay by Zhang Yongkang
    Researcher at The Yunnan Provincial Museum, July 2017


    This large copper alloy figure of Mahakala is a masterpiece of exquisite workmanship surviving with a desirable patina. His facial features, posture, and decorative elements indicate an origin of the late-12th to early-13th century Dali Kingdom. Its overall style and quality correspond to that of the Dali imperial workshop.

    The figure is cast from bronze and stands tall at 42 cm in height. A mass of twisting locks of flame-like hair serves as a foil for the magnificent skull crown adorned with a seated Vairocana. Mahakala's wrathful expression is accentuated by a flaming moustache and bared fangs. A stunning array of freshly severed heads, each with vastly different hairstyles and expressions, hang from a cord comprised of a live snake coiling around itself over his left shoulder. A rippling tiger-skin loincloth is tied around his waist. His four arms are adorned with jewelled armbands, while his two primary hands hold a skull bowl (kapala) and a trident-tipped khatvanga (now lost). His upper left hand holds a drum (damaru), and his upper right a rosary (mala). His strong legs are naturalistically muscular and his ankles are adorned with snakes (nagas) above his sandals. Typical of Dali bronzes, his feet have tangs at the bottom for attaching the base.

    The bronze figure commands a strong visual impact with naturalistic dynamism. Its expression of "wrath without fury" (Wei Er Bu Nu) is characteristic of wrathful deities from Dali, discussed at length in Zhang, Research on the Sculptures of Da-li Buddha, 2004, Taiwan. A closely related sculpture of the same subject was sold a decade ago at Sotheby's, Paris, 6 December 2007, lot 22.


    Mahakala

    Mahakala, 'the Great Black One', is a protector deity who is also viewed as a warrior god, wealth protector, and guardian of the underworld. His origin is generally believed to derive from an incarnation of the Hindu god Shiva that was incorporated into the Buddhist pantheon as a protector deity. In the 7th century, Mahakala developed into one of the most important protector deities in Indian Esoteric Buddhism. Mahakala remains a prominent protector in Tibetan Buddhism today, where he is known as the wrathful manifestation of Vairocana Buddha. He can be seen depicted in his two-armed, four-armed, or six-armed form throughout monasteries in Tibet.

    By contrast to the peaceful bodhisattvas prevalent in Chinese Buddhism, the Mahakala doctrine is not within the mainstream canon. It is more popular in Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and Yunnan, which can be attributed to the spread of Tibetan Buddhism in those regions. The worship of Mahakala in Yunnan is closely associated with the tantric practices in the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms, coeval with the Tang and Song dynasties. He is described in at least three Chinese, Tang-dynasty monastic sources: by Huilin in volume 10 of his, All Sound and Meaning of Sutra; by Yijing in his, A Record of the Buddhist Religion: As Practiced in India and the Malay Archipelago, dated 671; and by Shenkai of Jiaxiang monastery in his late-Tang, Tantra of Mahakala.


    The Worship of Mahakala in Dali Kingdom

    In 1956, Fei Xiaotong and other scholars discovered 3000 volumes of Buddhist and Daoist sutras and scriptures in the Dong Family Shrine of Beitangtian village, located in the town of Fengyi in Dali City. Mostly dating to the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties, the find documents the religious and cultural development of Yunnan during the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms in great detail.

    Among the Dali Kingdom Buddhist scriptures is a volume titled Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, at the back of which is a manuscript of, "Rituals for the Bodhimanda of the Great Black One". Mr. Ho Chong further researched the text, finding examples of the forms of Mahakala observed in the Dali Kingdom – "One body and in seven manifestations, seven forms and one ultimate reality". The seven forms are: Mahakala-deva, Yaksha of Peace and Joy, Kala of the Sun and Moon, Kala of the golden bowl, Kala of the Graveyard, Indra Kala, and Kala of the Treasure Store.

    With these textual references scholars are able to identify three of the seven forms within the famous Song Dynasty Dali Kingdom Buddhist Scroll by Zhang Shengwen in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei. These are: Mahakala-deva, Yaksha of Peace and Joy, and Kāla of the golden bowl. The scroll also includes four other manifestations of Mahakala, which most certainly correspond to the remaining textual descriptions, but there are iconographic discrepancies between the two documents, causing scholars to refrain from speculating which form each represents. Nonetheless, all of the figures on the scrolls share the common attributes of Mahakala – an open mouth with fangs, three enraged eyes, skull necklaces, bare upper bodies, tiger-skin loincloths, trident sceptres, and vajras.

    Contrasting the rigidity of Tibetan tantric image making which strictly adheres to the Sutra of Statue Making in Tibetan Buddhism, image making in Nanzhao and Dali was more spontaneous and apocryphal, reminiscent of the Tang Esoteric Buddhist style. It is also generally perceived among scholars that Nanzhao and Dali Buddhist images were received directly from India, rather than by way of Tibet, and the author of this paper believes that the facial features, muscularity, slight rigidity, and trident sceptre indicate the direct influence of Pala bronzes from Northeast India.

    Ancient records indicate that Mahakala was an important warrior god in the Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms, and was symbolic of the divinity of kings, used in discourses of authority and legitimacy. In the record, Dian You Xu Bi, it was said that Shi Long, a King of Nanzhao, believed himself to be the reincarnation of Mahakala. During the Dali period, a king had to receive the coronation ritual (abhisheka) every year on the fifteenth day of the first month, during which a master would lead the worship of Avalokiteshvara. According to The Grand Ritual of Abhisheka, "the King would meditate facing the master, red pigments would be applied to the king's body to emulate cremation...and [he would] imagine becoming the divine Vairocana".

    Within the political and religious traditions of the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms, the king, Vairocana, and Mahakala were closely associated with each other. The king was the symbol of power and religious unity, while at the borders he manifested as Mahakala to protect the kingdom's territories. This explains why representations of Mahakala are frequently seen along the borders, such as the stone sculptures in Cave 6 of the Yunnan Jianchuan grottoes and Cave 16 of the Shadengqing grottoes, and in carved relief at Mount Santai. Surviving scriptures, paintings, sculptures, and murals from Dali all point to a reverence, even dependence, toward the deity. This worship of Mahakala continues through the late Ming and Qing Dynasties in Yunnan and Kunming. According to the Third Cultural Relics Census, 130 out of the 132 temples in the Dianchi Lake region are dedicated to Mahakala. Along with Acuoye Avalokiteshvara, Mahakala was one of the two most prominent esoteric deities in the region: the guardian of this Buddhist kingdom.


    Later Dali Bronzes from Imperial Workshops

    Particularly as Acarya Buddhism came to permeate Yunnan's elite, by the late Dali period (12th-13th century) the spontaneity of Nanzhao Buddhist images matured with increasing consistency, and imperial workshops crystalized a Dali style. We particularly see this under the reigns of King Duan Zhengxing (r. 1147-72) and King Duan Zhixing (r. 1172-1200).
    Most of the known Nanzhao and Dali bronzes in prominent collections came from these imperial workshops. One important example being the Dali Acuoye Avalokiteshvara in the San Diego Museum of Art, which has a dedicatory inscription dated to the reign of Emperor Duan Zhengxing that informs the dating of comparable figures. A number have been identified within museum collections, such as the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Sichuan Museum, the Dali Bai Nationality Autonomous Prefecture Museum, and the Yunnan Provincial Museum, etc.

    These Acuoye sculptures are around 42-49 centimetres high, and a scientific study, sampling ten, at the Smithsonian, Washington DC, determined that they are cast from a copper alloy with a marked presence of arsenic, probably from local mines, under their lacquered and gilded surfaces. (Paul Jett, "Technologische Studie zu den vergoldeten Guanyin Figuren aus dem Dal-Konigreich", in Der Goldschatx der drei Pagoden, Zurich, 1991, pp.68-74.) This arsenical alloy most likely creates Dali sculpture's distinctive porosity within the metal surface, exemplified throughout the Bonhams Mahakala's patina.

    In the Yunnan Provincial Museum, there is a 50cm-high gilt bronze figure of Mahakala with nine heads, eighteen arms, and three feet, in a very similar style. The Princeton University Art Museum also has a Dali bronze of Mahakala, which was mistakenly attributed to the Yuan Dynasty and wrongly identified as a Vidyaraja, (see Zhao Yun, "The Mahakala of the Dali Kingdom", in Collection, Shaanxi, 2016, vol. 8).

    Again informing a date for the Bonhams Mahakala, a stone sculpture of Mahakala was found near Mount Shibao in Jianchuan, dated by inscription to, "the fourth year of Shengde" (1179). Moreover, the aforementioned Dali Kingdom Buddhist Scroll by Zhang Shengwen is dated by colophon to the "the fifth year of Shengde" (1180).

    During renovations of the three pagodas of Dali Chongsheng Temple in 1976-9, over 680 artefacts, mostly from the Dali Kingdom, were discovered within the Qianxun Pagoda. Among the hoard was a silver Dali Kingdom figurine of Mahakala, which closely resembles the Dali Kingdom Buddhist Scroll Mahakalas, the Jianchuan grotto relief, and the Bonhams Mahakala.

    In addition to well-studied Acuoye Avalokiteshvaras, Nanzhao and Dali Mahakalas deserve further research, being the other most important deity in Yunnan during this period. The present comparative study attributes the Bonhams Mahakala to the imperial workshop of the later Dali period, dated between the late 12th and early 13th century. It is a work of great artistic, historic, and scientific value – and an important example, which will hopefully be made available for further study to help deepen our understanding of Buddhist art and history in the Dali Kingdom.


    大黑天銅像
    雲南,大理國,十二世紀晚期/十三世紀早期

    喜馬拉雅藝術資源網7843號
    高41.5釐米(16 3/8英吋)

    2,000,000-3,000,000港元

    來源
    法國私人珍藏
    歐洲私人珍藏,於2001年購自上述收藏
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