VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Human skull cup and lid
DUROM.1962.226
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

The Tibetan skull-cup (Kapala) held by the Oriental Museum is a beautiful example of an artistic and ritual item dating from the 19th century CE. An artefact of this nature - one that serves as a reminder of the transient nature of existence - cannot fail to inspire the observer to delve more into its reasons for being, its creation and its purpose. For this to happen, the observer must consider the use of human remains in its creation. This in turn compels the observer to question their own beliefs and feelings about death. To consider this skull-cup a masterpiece is not only testament to its aesthetic beauty but also to its place in a culture rich in history, tradition and belief. Being considered a treasure certainly does not diminish the human remains that make up such an ‘artefact’, but rather serves to remind the observer that treasure comes in many forms.

History of the Object
Vessels such as this were used in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries as part of the rituals to appease fierce deities. Often the remains used to make ritual items were left by high lamas to their monastery for that very purpose.

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Type
Other 
Materials
Human skull decorated with metal, coral and stones 
Measurements
Height 22cm including the lid, width 15.5cm, length 18cm 
Creator name
Tibetan 
Creator date
Unknown 
Where it was made
Tibet 
Geography
China 
Time period
AD 19th century ~ AD 19th century 
Creation date
19th Century; 1800-1899 CE 
Function
Tibetan Buddhist worship used skull cups for offerings to fierce deities. 
Acquisition
Purchased by the Oriental Museum in 1962 
Copyright
Copyright owned by Durham University Oriental Museum 
Acknowledgements
 
Owner
Owned by Durham University Oriental Museum 
Museum
Oriental Museum 
Credit line
 

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