Arte Asiatica e Orientale

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Extremely rare Dali Kingdom Dharmapala (Hayagriva?)


Extremely rare bronze sitting Dharmapala from Yunnan, showing the typical features of the Dali Kingdom tradition (especially in the face, with the classic "three eyes" stylisation, and in the cranial protuberance, adorned of very simple a tiara-like jewel on the forehead). Atop the head, the hair is divided in few separated locks, inclined and symmetrically converging to the peak of the "usnisa", an exclusive feature of the Dali Kingdom sculptures that marks the borderline between the art of the following periods, especially from that of the Yuan domination, during which it hasn't been repeated anymore The dark brown - blackish lacquer traces that still cover a leather-colored bronze (most likely with an high percent of arsenic ih the alloy), some particular casting flaws (due to the high viscosity of the copper alloy) well seen in the back, further address the attribution to the end of the Dali Kingdom of this "one of a kind" sculpture. In literature, no other sitting bronze Dharmapala (different from the more usual images of Mahakala) seems to have been recorded, making this sculpture most probably an "unicum" in the art history of Yunnan. This figure is holding a club in its right hand, a particular attribute that could allow the identification with Hayagriva. At the waist, there is a very simplified belt, with ripetitive bulging semi-spherical elements: also this feature is very distinctive of Dali Kingdom style, having been found - with some variations (as rosaces and other elements) - in many oher examples of this provenance. This marvellous and mysterious figure is 28 cm. high, absolutely an imposing size for such a rare artwork.

China, Yunnan province, end of 12th century or early 13th century.

For a comparison with a bronze figure of Canda Vajrapani, attribute to 9th century art of Yunnan (Nanzhao Kingdom, forerunner of the Dali Kingdom of Yunnan), sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong sale of november 30th - 1st december 2017, lot n. 446, much smaller in size (13,2 cm.), please take a look at photo n. 4, showing a detail of the face. 

The hairdo divided in a few separated locks, inclined and symmetrically converging to the peak of the "usnisa", and adorned of a "tiara - like" jewel, is an exclusive feature of Dali Kingdom sculptures: for a comparison with the head a little gold sculpture housed in the Yunnan Provincial Museum of Kunming, see photo nr. 5 (courtesy of Yunnan Provincial Museum, all rights reserved).

Another interesting feature shown by this rare sculpture is the very unusual shape of the armour worn by the deity: as seen in one of the two examples of this kind still existing nowadays, housed in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, these armours had a very distinctive form and construction, absolutely unique to Yunnan province.They were made of rigid leather panels coated with layers of red and black lacquer and joined together by leather laces. The same construction, with the leather laces, is clearly visible in our bronze statue, further confirming its attribution to Dali Kingdom.