A Tribute to the Fine Sculptural Tradition of Nepal

Item Code: RP35
Copper Sculpture Gilded with 24 Karat Gold
Height: 15.5 inch
Width: 8.5 inch
Depth: 5 inch
Weight: 2.78 kg
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The contribution of the metal sculptors of the Kathmandu valley to the art traditions of the Indian subcontinent have been long-lasting and profound. For centuries these artists have been acknowledged masters and even today create much of the art venerated by Buddhist communities across the globe.

This sculpture represents the bodhisattva commonly known as Avalokiteshvara or Padmapani. The former name means ‘the lord who sees on all sides’, and the latter ‘lotus-in-hand.’ Indeed, the lotus is most distinctive attribute, supported here on his left shoulder. In Nepal, he is popularly known by a third designation ‘Lokeshvara’, meaning ‘lord of the world.’

The youthful figure of Lokeshvara stands on a pedestal supported by snow-lions, while his feet rest on an inverted lotus. A dhoti clings to his lower limbs while the flowing edges of his scarf can be seen entwining his form. A distinctive feature is the figure of Buddha in his crown which represents Amitabha, the spiritual father of Lokeshvara. Behind the deity is a faming red aureole, signifying the all-consuming fire of wisdom.

The preferred metal for casting religious icons in Kathmandu valley is nearly always copper, and that too gilded with 24 karat gold. The gilding method used is known as 'mercury gilding' in which an amalgam of gold and mercury is applied to the surface of the sculpture with a brush, and then high heat is applied via a torch and the mercury is burned off, leaving the pure gold, which is then burnished to a high gloss. This method, though in use since ancient times, is not a particularly safe method since the process of burning off the mercury produces a lethal vapor. The exact composition and proportion of this mercury gold amalgam used in gilding copper sculptures is a closely guarded secret, known only to the traditional artists themselves.

This sculpture was created in the city of Patan.


In Tibetan iconography, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara has three principal forms:  

Padmapani Avalokiteshvara with Wisdomfire Aureole
Chenrezig (Shadakshari Avalokiteshvara)
Thousand Arms of Compassion
With two arms, known as Padampani (lotus-bearer) Avalokiteshvara. With four arms, known as Chenresig. With one-thousand arms and eleven heads, known as Sahsrabhuja Lokeshvara.

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How are Nepalese copper statues made?

Nepalese statues and sculptures are best known for their unique small religious figures and ritual paraphernalia for over two thousand years. These are mainly cast in copper alloy. Nepal draws influences from the artistic styles of Buddhism and Hinduism, and therefore the sculptors of the country specialize in making the icons of both these religions. Over the years, Nepalese sculptures evolved into their own distinctive iconography. Some characteristic features of these sculptures that differ from other pieces are exaggerated physical postures, youthful and sensual features, languid eyes, wider faces having serene expressions, and ornate flourishes. The Buddhist deity icons of Nepal have tremendous demand in countries such as China and Tibet for ritual purposes in their temples and monasteries.

Nepalese statues and sculptures have a high copper content and therefore develop a slightly reddish patina on the surface as they age. However, the most unique feature of Nepalese copper statues is their decorative detailing. The pieces are heavily gilded and sometimes inlaid with semi-precious stones. This embellishment protects them from getting tarnished. The traditional lost-wax method for casting Nepalese copper statues remains the most practiced technique in Nepal for many centuries. This process involves many steps and requires skilled artists.

The first step in lost-wax sculpting is to make a wax replica of the desired Buddhist deity to be cast in copper. This replica is created by hand and therefore needs excellent artistic skills otherwise fine features will be lacking.

Once the wax replica is made, it is then coated with a special mixture of clay with a brush. This layer of clay is hardened when left to dry. A small hole is made on the base of the wax mould so that the wax flows away when it is heated.
At this stage, a hollow mould in the shape of the deity is obtained.

This is the time to pour liquid copper into the hollow mould which is then allowed to cool and harden inside a container of cold water. When the liquid metal has hardened, the mould is removed and the statue within is revealed.
The artist works on the details of the statue using various tools. It is then polished to get a shiny and lustrous surface.

Now comes the most important part of Nepalese art which is gold gilding. This is done by the traditional fire gilding method. A mixture of mercury and 18K gold is applied on the surface of the statue and heat is applied using a flame torch. The result is that mercury evaporates along with impurities, leaving a pure 24K gold finish.

The lost-wax method of sculpting is the most preferred technique

for artists to cast a metallic statue having intricate details. Since Nepalese copper sculptures require extraneous effort for giving a majestic look by adding special embellishments, it takes several weeks to complete one masterpiece. A 24K gold gilded copper sculpture retains its brilliant luster for many years and appears as like before. Nepalese sculptures continue to remain one of the finest specimens of the art of the East that have a strong aesthetic appeal that other sculptures cannot match.
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