This gilded, solid bronze image is most likely of Mahakala, one of Tibetan Buddhism’s more popular deities. The figure would have been part of a larger ensemble. The deity does not have identifying attributes but the face, stance and countenance are all that of Mahakala, the ‘Great Lord of Time’ and a wrathful manifestation of Avalokiteshvara.
The figure has a dynamic presence and splendid patina.
It stands in ardhaparyanka, with the right leg folded on an almost horizontal plane. It has been cast with a five-pointed crown with small skulls at the base of each point (one is deficient). A ribbon flows over his arms from the back of the head. A long necklace falls over the belly, and a loincloth covers the waist, the upper legs, and falls down behind the deity.
The body and crown are gilded. Small turquoise cabochons remain in the earrings and some also remain in the crown, providing a pleasing contrast with the gilding.
The deity’s orange-painted hair flied upward like flames. His face is similarly painted. The eyes are piercing and his lips are open with teeth bared. There is also a third eye on the forehead.
He has fleshy arms and legs and a pot belly.
This form of Mahakala was popular with both the Sakyapa and Kagyupa sects and stylistically shows significant Nepalese influence which was favoured in central Tibet in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Overall, this is a fine, earlier bronze with incontrovertible age and patina.
Linrothe, R., & J. Watt, Demonic Divine: Himalayan Art and Beyond, Rubin Museum or Art/Serindia Publications, 2004.
Pal, P., Art from the Himalayas & China: Asian Art at the Norton Simon Museum, Yale University Press, 2003.