A superb Nepalese gilt copper figure of Avalokitesvara (embodiment of compassion), inlaid with lapis lazuli, gems and glass, dates from around the 13th century and indicates the hand of a master Nepalese sculptor. Standing 91.4 cm high, the refined figure is richly gilded and the exquisite jewellery and the superb finish are rendered with consummate skill. Cast Himalayan standing images of this size and period are rare and this example is cast in one piece which is rarer still.
One of the earliest pieces in the exhibition is a Central Indian red sandstone fragment dating from the 2nd/3rd century. It depicts the lower portion of a double-sided shalabanjika, ‘woman and tree’, which once served as a supporting bracket on a gateway. Both sides represent tree spirits known as yakshi, ancient Indian goddesses who celebrate the feminine powers of fecundity and whose vitality brings to life the tree against which they are leaning. One figure stands on a dwarf (guhya) crouching on a rocky terrain, the other on a mythical crocodilian beast with a scaly body ending in a fan-like tail. Although only the lower torso and bare legs of the goddesses survive, the superb carving and grace of the figures make this piece very attractive.
An extremely lively and colourful painting, distemper on cloth, from Central Tibet dating from around the late 12th to early 13th century depicts Vajravarahi (Diamond Sow), symbol of freedom from ignorance. Vajravarahi is described in the Anuttarayoga Tantras of the 11th to early 13th century as a support for visualisation practice. The talented Tibetan painter depicts the wide-eyed goddess dancing on the supine figure of a handsome man. In a shade just deeper than that of her body, a red curtain of flames provides the backdrop against which eight of her entourage dance. Behind the curtain on four sides are depictions of eight holy cremation grounds bound by rivers and the whole is framed by further dancing or seated figures. The magnificent painting which measures 81 by 60 cm represents a mandala or sacred assembly associated with the goddess.
A later piece from Tibet, circa 15th to 16th century, is a dramatic stone sculpture representing Panjara Mahakala, a somewhat mysterious figure sometimes referred to as ‘Lord of the Tent’ and perhaps representing a ‘Lord of Cemeteries’. The partly gilt and painted figure with skulls decorating his headdress emits a fiery wrath – hair, eyebrows and moustache ablaze with fury, fangs and tongue exposed in rage. He cradles a large staff in his arms while his hands use a knife to pulverise bloody matter in a skullcup. Muscles bulging, he squats with his feet pressed firmly on the head and buttocks of a supine figure. At the top of this extraordinary black stone piece is the auspicious man-bird Garuda holding a snake in his beak and hands.
Another remarkable, but contrastingly peaceful, object is a Chakrasamvara mandala from 17th or early 18th century Mongolia. made of gilt copper alloy and pigments. A beautifully incised 32-cm-high globe resting on a leafy base supported by an eight-sided shaft opens to reveal a perfectly proportioned eight-petalled lotus. On a platform at the centre is an exquisite sculpture of Samvara and Vajravarahi surrounded by twenty members of their celestial assembly standing on the inside of the petals and four offerings in skullcups. This precision-made weighted sculpture is closely related to works produced by the celebrated Mongolian Buddhist artist-monk, Zanabazar (1635-1723), a gifted engineer who may have had a hand in the creation of the superbly crafted work.
Rossi & Rossi was founded in Turin in 1970 by Anna Maria Rossi who moved to London in 1985. In 1988 she was joined by her son Fabio and together they have established a reputation as leading dealers in Indian and Himalayan art. Rossi & Rossi has published a number of scholarly works and clients include such major institutions as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cleveland Museum of Art, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the Tokyo National Museum.
In mounting the exhibition Symbols of Buddhism: Sculpture and Painting from India and the Himalayas Rossi & Rossi aim to show the high quality of Buddhist art throughout the regions of India and the Himalayas as well as through the centuries. It is not intended to be an exhaustive survey but rather an aesthetic journey with each piece chosen for its transcendental beauty, the common thread being spiritual enlightenment reached through the experience of beauty.