VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Vajrapani
ME1935.50.1714
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

The set including the Vajrapani, is unique in Western collections, since such large scale statues are rarely seen there. They display craftsmanship of the highest order, and stylistically they are related to the school developed in Mongolia by the famous sculptor and abbot, Zanabazar, known for its relative simplicity and beauty.

History of the Object
The statue had been a part of the religious paraphernalia that had turned the Efi Khalka temple into a place of worship. Its history before then is not known. Together with the other statues it could have been commissioned for that temple. It was acquired by Sven Hedin for the so-called Hedin-Bendix collections, which in turn was associated with the project of bringing a temple to Chicago and one to Stockholm for the display of Tibetan Buddhist objects. (The result was Hedin’s commissioning of a full scale, exact copy of the so called “Golden Temple” in Chengde/Jehol.)

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Type
Sculpture 
Materials
Gilt brass with lacquer and pigments; Semi-precious stones 
Measurements
Not available 
Creator name
Unknown 
Creator date
Not known, but late 17th to early 18th century 
Where it was made
China; Inner Mongolia; Probably a workshop in Dolon Nor in Chahar 
Geography
China 
Time period
AD 18th century ~ AD 18th century 
Creation date
18th Century; early 
Function
Statue of Vajrapani, a major Mahayana Bodhisattva, to be placed in a temple hall, preferably at its entrance since he is variously fierce and compassionate. He appears as a defender of the Buddhist doctrine and is also associated with the removal of obstacles. In the triad where Avalokiteshvara stands for compassion and Manjushri for wisdom, he symbolizes power. The statue represents what could be called Sino-Tibetan or Sino-Mongolian religious art. It illustrates the rich iconography and complicated symbolism generally found in Tibetan art. Vajrapani holds a vajra in his right hand and tramples live snakes under his feet. He is dressed in a tiger-skin loincloth and flames stand out from his eyebrows and hair – all symbolically expressing his fearful character. The rich jewels and the crown, on the other hand, communicate his benign nature. 
Acquisition
The total set of six statues, including the Vajrapani, was acquired by the Swedish explorer and geographer Sven Hedin on February 13, 1930 from the Mongolian owners of the deserted temple Efi Khalkha, then situated in Chahar, Inner Mongolia. Hedin had encountered the temple a year earlier on a journey to the area, and found it abandoned by its owners, who had been overrun by Chinese settlers. Everything had been taken away or been destroyed apart from the big statues, and the temple itself was probably to be dismantled by a Chinese entrepreneur. Hedin got in touch with the Mongolian owners and a year later he was able to conclude a deal and acquired the statues. They were cleared by the Chinese authorities before being exported. 
Copyright
© Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm 
Acknowledgements
Tony Sandin, Ann Olsén, and Ulla Edberg of the Museum of Ethnography for providing photographs and for assisting in transferring the material to the ASEMUS website. 
Owner
Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm 
Museum
Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm 
Credit line
Cf. Rhie, Marylin M. and Robert A.F. Thurman 1991: Wisdom and Compassion. The Sacred Art of Tibet, Harry N. Abrams Incorporated New York. 

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