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Place of Origin: Tibet

Date: 18th Century

Overall Height: 230mm (9 inches)

Overall Width: 245mm (9.64 inches)

Reference: 430

Status: Sold

Full Description:

The fiery visage of this mask is mesmerising, with the brow, moustache and all edges of the face worked intricately in gilt-copper repoussé to depict spiralling flames that look as if they might leap out at the viewer. The mask’s rubbed nose reveals the copper core of the frame, whilst the oval third eye and broad apertures for the wearer’s cheeks and mouth provide generous space for the wearer’s features.

Masks such as these were used by monks during a ritual Offering Dance (Ghar in Tibetan) of the Kalachakra Initiations. The ceremony sees monks dance in the guise of offering goddesses, so as to lend concentration to the Kalachakra Mandala, a manifestation of Kalachakra as the sacred realm of Buddha (Kalachakra literally translates to “Wheel of Time”).[1]

As in many other examples, the nose here is rubbed and lays bare a copper surface, though the reason for this is unclear. An important comparandum (Museum Code ABR 041),[2] preserved in the Tibet Museum (Gruyères, Switzerland), similarly shows the copper interior of both its nose and third eye. Further important examples for comparison are published and discussed by Béguin (1977),[3] as well as Thurman & Weldon (1999).[4]

The mask possesses a rich and impressive provenance, having been first sold and published by Spink & Son Ltd in The Mirror of Mind: Art of Vajrayana Buddhism (London, 1995),[5] and subsequently by Christie’s in 2004 (New York).[6] During the intermediary period, the mask was furthermore featured in an exhibition and subsequently published in Monasterios y lamas del Tibet (2000).[7]


[1] See also Cat. No. X above (i.e. the chakravartin sword).

[3] G. Béguin, Dieux et démons de l'Himâlaya, 1977, cat. no. 329, ill. p. 265

[4] R. Thurman and D. Weldon, Sacred Symbols, The Ritual Art of Tibet, 1999, cat. nos. 40 and 41.

[5] Exhibition Catalogue, The Mirror of Mind: Art of Vajrayana Buddhism, London, Spink & Son Ltd, 1995, pp.72-73, Cat. No. 44.

[6] Exhibition Catalogue, Indian and Southeast Asian Art Including 20th Century Indian, New York, Christie’s, 2004, Lot 87.

[7] Exhibition Catalogue, Monasterios y lamas del Tibet, Madrid, Fundación “La Caixa”, 2000, p. 119, Cat. No. 60.


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