Buddhist and Hindi art are filled with countless poses, most commonly, incorporating the fingers, palms, and wrists of each hand, independently, flexing and curling, connecting and extending, to create a vast catalogue of symbolic gestures known as the mudras. In the spiritual practice of Buddhism and Hinduism, the mudras are used to focus a person’s energy and to evoke or symbolize a particular state of mind. They are used throughout eastern art, identifying the Buddhas and other deities, and help to tell a story representative of their lives.
In practice, the mudras are used in religious ceremonies, in some forms of Asian martial arts and in various types of Indian classical dance, and as one of the sevenfold aspects of yoga outlined in the Gheranda Samhita and in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The mudras used in each practice are not necessarily homogeneous, each catalogue has expanded and evolved over centuries of the tradition and have adapted to fulfill the needs of each custom. It is believed, by some, that the use of the mudras, in conjunction with meditation and breath, aid in healing and promote balance in life, connecting the spirit with the body, earth, and beyond. The mudras became representative of particular conditions and as belief in Buddha and other deities spread, they began to be characterized by the mudras that represented their integrity.
Buddhas and other eastern deities are predominantly depicted with associated mudras. These gestures help to identify the deity and provide a visualization of an immortal’s intent. There are five quintessential mudras associated with the most prevalent depictions of Buddha and his disciples.
The Dharmachakra mudra, or the “wheel of dharma” represents the moment in the Buddha’s life when he made his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. It is symbolically used to identify teachers as can be seen here in the gilt-bronze figure of Tsongkhapa a 14th century Lama and renowned teacher of Tibetan Buddhism. The gesture is formed with both hands, shaped identically with thumb and forefinger creating a circle or “wheel”, positioned at the chest with the right hand against the body palm outward and the left overlapping with palm inwards. It is said to have been used by Vairochana to transform ignorance to reality.
The Bhumisparsha mudra symbolizes the Buddha’s moment of enlightenment. This mudra incorporates both hands: while seated in meditation, the left hand rests, palm upwards and fingers extended, in the lap, the right forearm rests across the lap with the hand draped over the knee, palm inward and fingers extending down towards the ground. Here the Bhumisparsa Mudra is demonstrated by the Buddha Akshobhya in a 17th Century bronze, and is believed to have been used by Akshobhya to transition his rage into reflection.
The Dhyana mudra is the meditation mudra, both hands resting palms upward in the lap, with the right hand over top the left. It was purportedly used by Amitayus to transition his attachment to discernment. This white and russet jade carving shows Buddha posed with the Dhyana mudra. This pose is associated with Buddha’s moment of enlightenment, that came when meditating beneath the leaves of a Pipal Tree. This mudra has become a common mudra for meditation in the yoga community.
The Varada mudra represents the embodiment of generosity, the granting of a boon, and devotion to human salvation. It was used by Ratnasambhava to help transition his pride to sameness. A single hand faces outward with the fingers extended down. It is nearly always used in conjunction with other mudras. Here in this 17th/18th Mongolian figure of Tara, you can see the varada mudra of the proper right hand.
The Adhaya mudra is an expression of fearlessness, and good intent. In depictions of Buddha facing an elephant this mudra calms the hostile situation. Implemented to help transform jealousy to accomplishment, the buddha Amoghasiddhi, Lord of Karma, is credited with aiding in this transition. The right hand is raised to shoulder height, with palm facing outward and the fingers pointed upward. This chinese Gilt Bronze Standing Buddha for the 17th/18th century is a wonderful example of the mudra.
Through varying combinations of hand gestures, the mudras embody the feelings, conditions, and characteristics of each of the deities. Rich in symbolic history, each nuance both conforms and projects an understanding of the traditions of the past and the cultural needs of the present. Namaste.
For more information on the mudras, check out the information below:
"Mudras in Buddhist and Hindu Practices." Scribd. Accessed March 22, 2018. https://www.scribd.com/doc/126066564/Mudras-in-Buddhist-and-Hindu-Practices.
Subject: Hand Gestures Main Page (Mudra). Accessed March 22, 2018. https://www.himalayanart.org/search/set.cfm?setID=4933.
"Mudras of the Great Buddha Symbolic Gestures and Postures." August 2001. Accessed March 22, 2018. https://web.stanford.edu/class/history11sc/pdfs/mudras.pdf.
"Mudras : Buddhist Hand Positions of Buddha." Of Buddha. Accessed March 22, 2018. https://www.burmese-art.com/about-buddha-statues/hand-positions.
Chinese Bronzes range from simple, almost utilitarian to whimsical pieces whose decoration far surpasses their use. The rhinoceros shaped Han Dynasty gold-and-silver-wire inlaid bronze zun-form vessel is one such fantastic object. At their time of creation, these were owned and used by the elite of China’s ruling classes. Now these fantastic works are open to viewing by all who revel in the fantastic nature of this archaic Chinese art form.
The first bronze articles were produced in China around 2000 BC. China’s Bronze Age is generally associated with the Shang Dynasty (1600-1050 BC) and the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC). Since that time these same forms have been repeated finding new life in various media.
Ancient bronzes served many purposes in rituals, court life, and daily life. Their form was generally speaking decided by their function and there were specific forms for specific purposes. These forms had various characteristics and decorative elements, some were incredibly finely cast and others more roughly so. Outlined here are a few of those forms.
Gu are slender vessels, used as to drink wine or as ritual wine vessels. With a slightly flared base and wide top, they are commonly seen in square form as well as round. At the center of the body there is often a bulb that protrudes slightly.
These three legged vessels, were used to hold wine for ritual purposes. They have a distinctive shape, with an elongated spout and generally also with a handle. One example in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum is thought to be manufactured from sheet metal. Most often Jue are not thin but of a similar thickness to that exhibited here from the Shanghai Museum of Art. This example dates to the early Western Zhou Dynasty.
With a wide flared mouth, and a bulbous midsection, the Zun was used as a wine vessel for ritual purposes. Similar in general shape to the gu, the dimensions differ greatly.
These tripod vessels were cooking cauldrons. Some of massive proportions, others of a smaller size. There are either produced in a round form with three legs, or in a rectangular shape with four legs. The example illustrated is inscribed on the interior with the character “good” 好 written in an ancient script. Chinese ritual cooking vessels from this period were often inscribed.
A bowl shaped ritual bronze, the gui was used to hold food offerings at tomb sites. Typically with a ring base, a fine bowl shaped body, and a wide mouth.
Not all bronzes were ornately decorated. Looking at the example from the National Museum of China in Beijing we see a piece of a similar date and the same form, but of a substantially simpler design than that of the other sold on iGavel. The Yan was a steamer and the example sold on iGavel retains its original steam tray. The carbon built up on the underside is what you would expect to see from a vessel such as this that had been used.
Highly polished on one side and often cast with intricate decorations on the other, Chinese bronze mirrors have intrigued collectors for more than 4,000 years. Bronze mirrors were in the height of their production in the Han, Tang, and Song Dynasties. Decorated with a variety of themes, it is important to examine these with a slightly more critical eye. Lark Mason Associates sale April 3-19, 2018 contains 12 such mirrors dating from the Han Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty. This mirror is one of these 12 and will be offered with an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000 on iGavel.
Bianzhong is a musical instrument consisting of a set of bells to be played when struck by a mallet. There are bells of various shapes and sizes. An interesting set was discovered in China in the tomb of Marquis Yi (433 BC). This set was subsequently studied for its acoustic characteristics. A set of replicas was created and are currently housed in the Wuhan Museum where they are on occasion played.
The set illustrated here is in the collection of the Shanghai Museum and is the bells of Marquis Su of Jin, who lived during the reign of King Li in the Western Zhou Dynasty.
While these forms serve as a rough guide to the identification of archaic Chinese bronzes, these shapes were repeated throughout the last 4,000 years and are still being repeated today. There are many pieces that look to these forms for inspiration, such as the below 18th century Chinese cloisonne vase. This piece was not created to deceive, rather, to be its own work of artistry. However, there are many fantastic fakes in the market today and it is best to be cautious.
The permanent collection of the St. Louis Art Museum, Philip
Hu as Associate Curator, contains many fine examples of Archaic bronzes.
The Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Senior Curator
Colin Mackenzie, boasts some fantastic ancient Chinese bronzes and is well
worth a visit.
Mirroring China’s Past: Emperors and Their Bronzes
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Open to May 13, 2018
Ancient Musical Treasures from Central China: Harmony of the
Ancients from the Henan Museum
Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix, AZ
Open to May 6, 2018
Qingbaijing Museum in Chengdu
Jackson Landers, "A Rare Collection of Bronze Age
Chinese Bells Tells a Story of Ancient Innovation." Smithsonian.com.
Department of Asian Art, “Shang and Zhou Dynasties: The Bronze Age of China.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/shzh/hd_shzh.htm
Susan Costello, “An Investigation of Early Chinese Bronze Mirrors at the Harvard University Art Museum” http://cool.conservation-us.org/anagpic/2005pdf/Costello.pdf
The Chinese art and antiques market has grown immensely over the last three decades. Collecting desirable and aesthetically pleasing works in many areas of Chinese art and antiques has become impossible for all but the most ardent of collectors. Chinese textiles is an area in which collectors from beginner to expert still may enter and find joy in collecting beautiful pieces. This category offers a truly wide variety of material with ranges in quality and size that make collecting possible at differing price points.
Silk has been an integral part of the Chinese economy and culture for thousands of years. Silk production originated in China and has been found in neolithic tombs that date back as far as 8,500 years ago. The production process was a well guarded secret for hundreds of years, and disseminating it, including exporting smuggled silkworms or cocoons was punished by death. In ancient times this fabric was such a highly sought after luxury that the entire trade route between Asia and Europe was named after it, the Silk Road. Production of silk centers around silkworm larvae fed on Mulberry leafs that have woven a cocoon but have not yet hatched as adult moths. The cocoon is made out of one fine continuous strand and they can be up to 600 to 900 meters long. Several of these strings are twisted together to create a single silk thread which when combined produce a resilient fabric. Silk fabric has been valued throughout history for its strength, but it was also sought after for its glossy texture, bright colors and the soft feeling of the fabric.
Silk was so important in Chinese culture and economy that one of the agricultural ceremonies the empress and other consorts would take part in every year was a special mulberry leaf gathering ceremony where they collected in a ritual fashion mulberry leaves that would then be fed to the silkworms. The empress even hosted a banquet for the 'guardians' or 'silkworm mothers'. This silk was then used by the emperor for rituals of the state aimed to appease the gods.
Some of the earliest silks that have been found beyond plain weave include brocade fabrics and damasks. In the Song dynasty a particular type of weaving that is still highly prized called Kesi was created. Kesi tapestries are woven on a small loom that is so fine the shuttle is actually a needle. The term translates to 'cut silk' and is believed to possibly reference the blocks of color that make up the textile and the small gaps between them. Kesi cloth was often used to create pictorial panels that emulate paintings or luxurious robes. These pieces are still sought after by collectors and early pieces can bring large sums.
Chinese embroidered silk is the largest portion of the textile market and another up and coming area of collecting. Embroidered silks of high quality attract competitive bidding at auction. There is a large variety of stitches used in Chinese embroidery, the most well-known stitch being a seed stitch called the ‘forbidden stitch.’ Collectors usually look at, among other things, the complexity and detail of the workmanship and the broader appeal that is comes from its use or rarity.
Even though silk is more readily available in today's global market, it's place in history mean it is still prized in China and through out the world.
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The stylistic trend for early to mid-20th Century glass closely mirrors the general changes and trends in design for the era. In the early 20th Century Art Deco and other movements, including Bauhaus began the trend of simple lines and a move away from elaborate ornament. Victorian styles were ornate and richly embellished. The embellishment was achieved with painted glass, cut glass , cameo glass or simply in the form with embellishments in the overall design of the piece of glass. In mid-Century we see glass forms became more sleek and streamlined. The shape and color become more important than the ornamentation and decoration of the glass. The shapes become more organic, and overall the pieces are more sculptural, and abstract. If classic forms are used, they are taken and re-interpreted with this modern aesthetic in mind. Depending on the country you are referencing, glass use could be lost completely, or the design could be modified with the aim of ease of daily use.
Early 20th Century