Cloisoneé Ga’u Amulet Box
China for the Tibet Market
height: 13cm, width: 12.5cm, weight: 320g
Most examples of ga’us or Tibetan amulet boxes were made in Tibet but this unusual and very fine example was made in China for export to Tibet. It comprises two halves, in brass, which have been decorated all over the outsides with fine cloisonné work in gold, yellow, several shades of green, blue, red and white.
It has a large central panel on the front that is decorated in gold against a dark blue ground with a stylised
kalachakra ideogram (the kalachakra is composed of ten powerful mantra syllables.) Much of the rest of the decoration consists of scrolling stylised lotus motifs, stylised Chinese bat motifs, Buddhistic reverse swastika motifs and general vegetal scrolling, all against a turquoise-green ground.
ga’u has lugs or eyelets on each side to allow it to be suspended from the wearer’s neck. One set of lugs also operates as a hinge, keeping the two halves together while the ga’u is opened.
See Ghose (2016, p. 56) for a related example now in the Art Institute of Chicago, (which appears to have comprised lot 428 in Christie’s New York sale, ‘The Scholar’s Vision: The Pal Family Collection’, March 20, 2008.)
Cloisonné is a centuries-old technique for decorating metalwork objects that was first used in China. The decoration is formed by first adding compartments (
cloisons in French) to the metal object by soldering or adhering metal wires or thin strips placed on their edges. The compartments were then filled powdered enamel or coloured glass that when fired in a kiln melt and fuse forming fields of colour which are kept separate by the soldered metal wires or strips.
ga’u or Tibetan amulet box was worn suspended from the neck to provide protection for the wearer. They were used to hold auspicious texts and probably some blessed talismanic objects. Typically such boxes were worn when the owner was travelling. For long or difficult journeys as many as a dozen might have been worn to face all directions to protect the individual from evil no matter what direction it might come.
The use of cloissoné on this
ga’u shows how Tibet served as an export market for Chinese manufacturers just as Europe, the United States, the Ottoman Empire, India and Southeast Asia also were early export markets.
Overall, quite apart from its decorative value, this is a relatively rare
ga’u type, and an excellent cross-cultural piece that tells an interesting story about Chinese export wares.
It is in excellent condition.
UK art market
Beer, R., The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs, Serindia, 2004.
Ghose, M. (ed.),
Vanishing Beauty: Asian Jewelry and Ritual Objects from the Barbara and David Kipper Collection, Art Institute of Chicago, 2016.
Inventory no.: 3843