Parcel-gilt copper with inset jewels and painted details
H. 32.1 W. 23.0 D. 12.0
Collection J. P. H. Y., Belgium
Detail: close up
What distinguishes this accomplished work of art is a fabulous sense of colour enhancing the dynamic form of the deities. Jewellery, clothing and ritual implements are carefully selected for mercury gilding. In contrast, the bodies of the deities are left ungilded in red copper representing the iconographically prescribed red colour of Hayagriva and his consort Vajravarahi. Jewels of exquisite shape and hue are expertly set into the earrings, bracelets and skull crowns.1 The three faces of Hayagriva and his partner are given focus and animation with gold and coloured paints. Wild-eyed horse heads, with teeth bared and ears laid back, appear from Hayagriva’s red-painted flaming hair.
Hayagriva (‘horse-neck’) is the fierce assistant of the compassionate Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, and their spiritual progenitor, Amitabha, is shown in the flaming hair above the three horse heads. The union with his female partner symbolizes the inseparable nature of wisdom and compassion, a fundamental tenet of Tibetan Buddhism. The vajra sceptre held in Hayagriva’s principal right hand represents male compassion, and the bell in his left is symbolic of female wisdom. A bow and a skull cup are held in other hands and a flayed human skin is worn over the shoulders and down his back.
the loss of its original pedestal, the statue retains integrity with
a lovely patina and depth of colour, and is undoubtedly one of the
most inspired representations of the deity—a veritable gem of
1 The jewels are predominately coloured glass or clear glass with tinted gold foil backings—by which subtle colours are achieved—which are fitted by crimping the edge of the settings in the Newar tradition, suggesting a Nepalese craftsman’s involvement in the sculpture, which nevertheless remains wholly Tibetan in style.
all text & images © 2005 The authors, the photographers and the Ethnographic Museum, Antwerp