1. Male Figure
(cat. pl. 1)
Swat Valley, Pakistan
c. 6th-7th centuries
Gilt copper alloy with silver
h. 8.2cm

 Male Figure

This sculpture is one of the finest surviving examples of a once flourishing sculptural tradition in Swat Valley. The figure is lively and expressive, a confident realization of the artist's vision. It was recovered by excavation, and although some of its original surface was lost through underlying corrosion while it lay buried, the remaining gilding is rich and lustrous. Silver is used to superb effect, highlighting the eyes (urna), flywhisk (which bears bands of alternating gold and silver), shawl and lower garment (langota).

The figure holds a flywhisk (its handle now lost), and a wide shawl envelops its back and upper arms. It is adorned with large hoop earrings, thick bracelets and an exquisitely rendered langota. A small diadem is secured by a thin gilt ribbon that wraps around the head, making a slight impression on the hair. Thick locks of hair fall onto the forehead, while longer tresses are pulled upward and secured at the crown of the head, whence they fall in a cascade of thick ringlets. The back is beautifully finished and includes a large tang affixed to the lower torso; the tang once attached the figure to a larger setting.

The image has distinctively wide, unembellished lotus petals in common with other works excavated in Swat Valley or attributed to this region.40 A highly accomplished technique of adorning the metal surface with both gold and silver is also found on two other works from Swat: a c. seventh-century gilded image off Tara, now in the Ashmolean Museum, and a standing bodhisattva in the Nitta Collection41 This male figure and the AshmoleanTara also have similar lotus bases.

A sixth-or seventh-century date is proposed for this work, based on comparisons with Gupta and post-Gupta period sculpture. The sages Nara and Narayana depicted on a c. fifth-century terracotta plaque from Uttar Pradesh, have the emphatically fleshy, rounded torsos, limbs and facial features seen here,42 Their postures and coiffures are also comparable. It is unlikely, however, that this image dates as early as the fifth century, for it also bears strong similarities to a stone fragment of a Mother goddess from Pandrethan of about the first half of the seventh century.43 This superb image is thus likely to date to the sixth or the seventh century. (cat. pl. 1)

40. For example Schroeder (1981), figs. 6A-6E
41. Published in Schroeder (1981), fig. 6D; and The Crucible of Compassion and Wisdom (1987, R 1991). Pl. 6, p. 100 in 1991 reprint. Note that the base of the Nitta figure is not original to the sculpture.
42. Published in Fisher (1989), p. 14.
43. Published in Siudmak (1989), p. 48, no. 10.

images © Nyingjei Lam
text © D. Weldon, Jane C. Singer