Tibetan Buddhist Art
Tibet has been a central hub of Buddhist belief and practise since the 8th century AD, when it became the formal state religion. As a means of supporting worship, many Buddhist communities have long produced impressive and beautiful works of art. One such branch of Tibetan Buddhist art is the production of metal figures, usually in gilded bronze, brass or copper, of the Buddha and of other Buddhist deities.
Tibetan Buddhist sculptures are commonly hollow in order to contain Buddhist relics, which were placed inside before sealing the base. The relics can include anything from prayer scrolls and sacred texts, to fragments of cloth, teeth and hair believed to have come from important figures in Buddhist tradition. As the relics are highly sacred, it is commonly considered unethical to open the figures and remove their contents.
The Lost-Wax Technique
The use of the ‘lost-wax’ method, in which a wax model in a clay mould was melted away and replaced by molten metal, allowed for the creation of intricate hollow bronze figures. Also somewhat unique to Tibetan Buddhist bronze sculpture was the custom of gilding or using ‘cold gold’ paint to add additional decoration. Sometimes coloured pigments were also used such as rich blues to emphasise certain features.
Buddhist Statuettes and Karma
Commissioning a statue or donating one to a temple or shrine was considered a good way to accrue the merit needed for good karma in the Buddhist religion, and thus many were dedicated at major temples and shrines; however, some smaller figures were likely intended for small domestic shrines. These shrines are usually small setups of pictures and figurines dedicated to a deity or ancestors.