Parcel-Gilded Silver Repousse Man’s Ga’u Box
late 18th-early 19th century
height: 25.3cm, width: 21.5cm, thickness: 7.4cm, overall weight: 2,560g
This spectacular, large, parcel-gilt, silver man’s ga’u box is repoussed in high relief and chased with an impressive triple-headed figure of Dorje Phurba in the yab-yum (‘father-mother’) position with the consort deity Dorje Phagmo.
Despite its large size and weighing more than 2.5 kilograms, this
ga’u would have been worn. And when not worn, it would have been kept in the home, perhaps on the altar. Such large and figural ga’us are distinctive of Northern Bhutan.
Dorje Phurba is a Nyingma Buddhist sect Tantric deity, which had a strong following in Bhutan. His name means ‘thunderbolt dagger’, because he stabs away hatred. He wears human bone skull ornaments and holds
dorjes in his two right hands and in his bottom left hand a katvanga staff topped with a skull trident.
The shape of Bhutanese figural boxes often follow the shapes of the figures represented on them, unlike, say ga’u boxes from Tibet for which the images are constrained within the pre-determined form of the box.
The double gilded silver horizontal strap lugs on the engraved silver sides are incised with four-petal lotus flowers. There is rounded scrollwork on the silver sides with a row of mantra letters down the center & a running key design border.
The back is of hammered copper sheet engraved with a
kalachakra ideogram. (The kalachakra is composed of ten powerful mantra syllables.)
The interior is lined with old textile as well as holding a variety of auspicious items. It is unusual for the original contents of a
ga’u box to be present. The contents include bits of feather shafts, a small seashell, old cloth marked with talismanic figures, hand-made paper with lantsa scripts and small bound packages
The parcel-gilt detailing on the faces and implements suggests the dating for this piece. According to Levenberg (pers. comm.), the use of gilt or gold plating on Bhutanese
ga’us ceased by the early 19th century.
There is minor wear to the gilding and the contours of this piece, but it is in otherwise excellent condition.
ga’u boxes are illustrated in Ghose (2016, p. 55).
Ghose, M. (ed.), Vanishing Beauty: Asian Jewelry and Ritual Objects from the Barbara and David Kipper Collection, Art Institute of Chicago, 2016.
Levenberg, L., pers.com.
private London collection
Inventory no.: 4570