Art of Nepal 1986.

Art of Nepal

Pal, Pratapaditya: Art of Nepal, (Los Angeles County Art Museum and The University of California Press, 1985), 257 pp. $49.95. ISBN 0-520-05406-7.

This is the second catalogue in the series of the Los Angeles County Art Museum. Containing many dated pieces, the collection is one of the most comprehensive of its kind outside Nepal.

The General Introduction sketches the historical and religious background of arts from the Lichchhavi period (330-879) on to the 19th century. The three main sections – dealing respectively with sculptures, drawings and paintings – give a short summary of the subject matter. The exact and clear description of complex terms such as Tantrism, Vajrayana, Sakti etc. – and of the historical links with India and Tibet will help the reader to comprehend the development of arts. The mergence of Buddhist and Hindu ideas and art forms is also well explained.

The remarkable religious tolerance has secured the balance and preservation of diverse artistic traditions in the Kathmandu valley.

The 71 sculptures comprise the earliest known metalwork outside Nepal – a plaque of Vishnu of 983 – and five other dated early images. The archaic, 8th century copper image of Vajrapani (or Indra perhaps) (S 6) has a special feature: the symbol of the god, the thunderbolt is personified by a small dwarf.

Mahasri Tara with two companions (S 12, Ioth century) is one of the earliest representations of Tara in Nepal. This fine, gilt copper triad possibly belonged to a larger composition. The androgynous image of Siva and Uma (S 15, c. 1000) is a masterpiece. The sculptor overcame not only the technical difficulties of casting a figure half male – half female with four arms, but succeeded in expressing the inner characteristics of both sexes combined with the serenity of gods.

The copper openwork with ten scenes from the life of the Buddha (S 23, 12th century) is a miniature masterpiece.

The author has corrected several datings. Thus, a Buddhist ritual crown can now be dated to the 12th, instead of the 16th century.

The image of Chamunda (S 32, 14th century) is a unique masterpiece. The face of the complex, 16-armed goddess has a sinister, compelling expression. From the stone sculptures a 7th century Vishnu with Garuda (S 1) and the Holy Family of Siva (S 8, 9th century) must be mentioned. A 19th century Newari necklace made for the Living Goddess is a wonderful piece of jewelry.

The catalogue of drawings describes the largest collection of Nepalese books outside the country, covering a wide variety of topics: Buddhist and Hindu iconographic model-books, architectural drawings, mandalas, ragas and raginis, Tantric rituals, manuals for ritual dances, designs for masks.


Vol.: 20.2.1986

The oldest book can be dated to the first half of the 15th century and it contains Buddhist iconographic drawings. A book of Buddhist litanies and images (P 9) is dated to 1652/53.

Most drawings display a strong Indian influence with scenes from the Ramayana, the figures of Ravana, Krishna and the Mahasiddhas. Hindu and Buddhist iconographic drawings appear side-by-side within the same book. This indicates that the masters were well versed in the realms of both religions.

While some of the earliest sketches (for example D 6 and 11) recall the arrangement and shapes of figures on Indian stone reliefs, later illustrations show a clear dependence on Indian miniature paintings.

The 26 paintings comprise illuminated manuscripts, paubha paintings, Hindu and Buddhist mandalas, books of astrology, omens and charms, albums. The earliest illustrations are from the 11th, 12th century. The covers of a Prajnaparamita sutra (P 2) are dated to 1054.

Some folios of the 12th century (P 6) show scenes from the life of Sudhana. The books of astrology, omens and charms date mostly from the 14th-18th century. Some paubha paintings executed on linen (the equivalents of Tibetan thankas) belong to the earliest known paintings of Nepal.

Thus the painting of Ratnasambhava (P 7, early 13th century) is the earliest known painting on cloth from Nepal. Such classical drawings served later as models for Tibetan and Chinese paintings. The Navadurga Mandala (P 9, late 14th century) is a rare Hindu mandala. A Vishnu mandala (P 11) is dated to 1420 and carries the name of the artist (Jayataja) and of the patron as well. P 13 is an extremely fine painting of Samvara with Vajravarahi in union form from the mid-15th century.

P 15 (dated to 1469) shows a complex scene including the figure of the wife of Vanaratna, an Indian teacher. The size of the figures is given according to hierarchy; a practice which reminds the reviewer of much earlier wall-paintings of Central-Asia.

A magnificent mandala of Vishnu (P 26, dated to 1681) was painted for the royal family of Bhaktapur. The late portrait of a Shah king shows Indian and European influences.

A six-page Appendix, the work of three specialists, gives the transcription and the translation of important inscriptions written in various – Bhujimol, Devanagari, Lantsa, Kutila, and Newari – scripts. The Bibliography is probably the amplest ever compiled on Nepalese art.

This excellent and meticulously prepared catalogue with its 36 color plates and 141 black-and-white illustrations offers to the reviewer a fair compensation for the missed opportunity of personally viewing this extraordinary collection.

Ferenc Hopp Museum of East Asiatic Arts, Budapest

László Ferenczy