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Gilt Bronze Figure Chakrasamvara

Gilt Bronze Figure Chakrasamvara, depicted standing in alidhasana on a lotiform base in front of a mandorla, his four fierce faces enhanced by a tiara encrusted with hard stones, his main hands holding the vajra and the ghanta, embracing his consort Vajravarahi holding the karttrika and the kapala, the other hands radiating around them holding various attributes


Period: 19th century.


Provenance: former collection of Madame V. in Brussels.

The vision of Twelve-armed Samvara in ecstatic, dance-like embrace with his consort Vajravarahi is one of the most exquisite subjects in Vajrayana Buddhist art. Meaning “Wheel of Bliss” in Sanskrit, the union of the two deities is known as Chakrasamvara, as represented in this near-complete example. The deities embody the attainment of the Highest Yoga Tantra tradition (Anuttarayoga Tantra) and Tibetan Buddhism’s supreme ideal: the skilled union of perfect wisdom (Vajravarahi) and compassion (Samvara).

Rapturous Vajravarahi lunges towards her consort, swinging her right leg around his waist. Wide-eyed and with furrowed brows, they behold each other. Cradling her tightly in his primary arms, Samvara crosses the vajra and ghanta ritual implements within his hands. This gesture is known as the vajrahumkara mudra and further symbolizes the successful union of wisdom and compassion. The divine couple tramples recumbent figures under each foot in triumph.

Being so complex, only the best artists were fit to undertake the challenge of casting Chakrasamvara. The task most often fell to Newari master craftsmen from Nepal who produced such sculptures for domestic and Tibetan worship. The stylistic preferences of each audience are somewhat slight. But, while many contemporaneous Tibetan examples emphasize the ferociousness of Chakrasamvara’s facial expressions, here instead, a benign intimacy is shared between the deities gazing into each other’s eyes. The sentiment betrays a preference in Nepal for showing divine couples in harmony, as representatives of ideal matrimony. Compare, for example, a Tibetan Hevajra and Chakrasamvara published in von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Vol.II, Hong Kong, 2003, pp.1058 & 1061, nos.269A-B & 270B-C) with a Nepalese Kalachakra and Chakrasamvara published in Essen & Thingo, Die Gotter des Himlaya, Munich, 1989, p.147, no.II-318; and Huntington & Bangdel, Circle of Bliss, Columbus, 2003, pp.270-1, no.72, respectively. Another Nepalese characteristic of the bronze is the base’s relatively thin and sharp-petaled double-lotus band. This is replicated on a very closely related Two-armed Chakrasamvara in the British Museum (1921,0219.1), almost certainly from the same workshop as the present bronze.

The sculpture survives from a refined artistic period in the Himalayas and is near-complete with its base and various implements present, missing only the elephant skin which would have been a thin sheet of metal drawn across Samvara’s back (and is commonly lost). Its absence, however, has the fortuitous effect of giving full view of the convincing modeling and balance of Samvara’s limbs. The base is bound by a modern red ‘protection cord’ which was added to the bronze when it was reconsecrated by monks of Drepung Loseling Monastery while under the present owner’s care.

Auction result comparison: Compare a closely related Gilt Bronze Figure of Chakrasamvara, dated to the 20th century, at Christies’s Paris in Live Auction 15063 on 14 December 2018, lot 681, sold for € 23,750, –

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