Tibetan Forearm Guard
Place of Origin: Tibet
Date: 15th-16th Century
Formed from a single piece of hardened leather, this is a scarce Tibetan guard for the left forearm. Unlikely to have ever been made in pairs, the small group of surviving examples are all for the left arm, a near identical example is in the Metropolitan Museum, and illustrated by LaRocca (2006), cat.no.35, p.118.
The surface of the leather has been affected by age and climate, but has taken on a wonderful reptile like appearance, in a red and gold colour that could be compared to the flames of hell, perhaps the maker would be quite happy with this result! Either way it is evident that the leather was once decorated with gold and red/orange paint.
Five vertical iron straps and integral diamond/half diamond shaped cartouches are riveted to the leather, each tipped with an arrowhead like finial. The only exception being the largest central fitting, this seems to be unique in the fact it has a brass background, which can be seen through the openwork, the unusual central brass floral washer in the centre is also quite unusual, but can be compared to an example illustrated by Hales (2013), fig.716, p.298. The leather edge is strengthened by means of an applied iron border, which like the straps, is chased with single line highlighting the design.
These straps compare loosely to the fittings found on the Tibetan shield, cat.no.38 of this publication, but more closely to the iron fittings on a very fine Tantric door, dated 16th-18th century, and illustrated by Kamansky/Hayward (2004), fig.126, p.307. The diamond shaped openwork cartouches on the door, and on other similar armguards, are likely of the same workshop, Kamasky/Hayward state a similar door to the one they illustrate is found in Nechung, the traditional seat of the State Oracle in Lhasa, and this will give us some indication of the high status of the artist producing this pierced ironwork.
The rear of the guard is undecorated, but shows good colour and patina. It shows a single wax seal in the form of a floral pattern, thought to be an early 20th century Tibetan export seal, a similar seal is found on a lamellar Tibetan helmet in the National Museum of Scotland, which was sold to the Museum in 1908 by F.M.Bailey (1882-1967), see LaRocca (2006), cat.no.1, p.54-56. Bailey was an officer during the Younghusband expedition of 1903-1904, and spent time as the British Trade Agent in Gyantse, an important Tibetan town South West of Lhasa.