The Review with Edward Wilkinson|Gilt Copper Nepalese Figures

Edward Wilkinson, Executive Director of Bonhams Asia and Global head of the Indian, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian Art, shared some tips on appreciating Nepalese sculptures through the lens of history and culture during our last interview.

Edward Wilkinson., Executive Director of Bonhams Asia and Global head of the Indian, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian Art, Bonhams

During the interview, he showed us two beautiful Nepalese sculptures — a gilt copper figure of Manjushri Namasangiti from the 13th-14th century Nepal and a gilt copper figure of Maitreya from the 14th century Nepal — which will be offered at Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Art Sale at Bonhams New York this month. The Value team therefore invited him to give a review on these two treasures.  

A Gilt Copper Figure of Manjushri Namasangiti
Nepal, 13th/14th century

Height: 15.8 cm
Lot no.: 3203

  • Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection, New York
  • Sotheby’s, New York, 2 November 1988, lot 80
  • Private European Collection
  • Carlton Rochell Asian Art, New York, 15 September 2010

Estimate: US$250,000 - 350,000

Q: Can you introduce the Buddhist sculpture presented here?

Edward: This treasure here is a Nepalese figure of Manjushri Namasangiti. Of all Asian sculptures, Nepalese sculptures from these early periods of Lichchhavi through early Malla really represent the human body in its most natural and sensuous form. This figure is complex, with many arms arranged in an elaborated form of yogi poses, which is represented all the way around.

Edward (continue): The countenance of the face is really quiet, peaceful, feeling this sculpture is magical. To me, the key part of why this art is so appealing is that it conveys the deep sense of spirit and meditation even if you don’t understand the religion or the practice.

Manjushri Namasangiti is one of the most important deities within the Newari Buddhist tradition of the Kathmandu Valley. He is conceived as the spiritual progenitor of all Tathagathas and the entire Buddhist cosmos. The sculpture bears evidence of careful yet ardent worship over the past half millennia.

Q: Any reason why the gilding on the sculpture is worn?
Edward: There is a reason for this for the missing gilding here. It’s not due to damage but this is all from ritual touching. So the face is worn, the gilt on the knee is worn. Because this sculpture has been constantly handled and touched in a devotional manner for across a thousand years.

Q: What about the provenance of this sculpture?
Edward: This piece was from the Heeramaneck collection. Nasli Heeramaneck was one of the earliest most famous dealers in the US, who was based in New York. He was active from the 1930s onwards. Part of his collection was sold in New York in 1988. This will be the first time it's been at auction since that time.

The Namansangiti figure is cast in a multi-armed form, which is a metaphor for his cosmic portent. Six arms represent each of the five Buddha families and Vajrasattva. Standing next to the figure of Manjushri Namasangiti is another Nepalese sculpture, dated back to 14th Century. Contrary to the multi-armed form, a gilt copper figure of Maitreya is presented in an image we are more familar with, one face and two arms.

A Gilt Copper Figure of Maitreya
Nepal, 14th century

Height: 32cm
Lot no.:3205

  • Spink & Son Ltd, London, 1977
  • Collection of J. Gelpey, 1977-1979
  • Galerie De Ruimte, Eersel
  • Collection of Mr. and Mrs. J. Meijer, Netherlands, 1981-2010
  • Marcel Nies Oriental Art, Antwerp, 1 December 2010

Estimate: US$350,000 - 450,000

Edward: We have a deity here, Maitreya, a little more familiar subject. It is a standing figure, conventional one face two arms. But again, this notion of ritual touching is evident right throughout.

Q: How should we appreciate this sculpture?

Edward: This is from the 13th - 14th century Nepal. The sculpture has a great sense of movement. Everything down to the textile, in the way which they are moving, they are not static. You see the end of the scarf that sweeps out to the side, not just falling straight. So you get the idea of movement.

Auction house: Bonhams New York
Sale: The Maitri Collection of Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Art
2018/3/15-20|10am - 5pm