Himalayan Art Resources

Sculpture: Introduction Page

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Introduction to Sculpture

The three subject categories of Art History, Iconography and Religious Studies apply to the study of Himalayan Art sculpture. The three main topics for study are sculptural Subjects, sculptural Medium and sculptural Style. The Subject topics are further divided into Non-figurative and Figurative with decorative, architectural and ritual objects as examples of non-figurative. Figurative examples can be divided into buddha, deity and person. The topic of Medium is divided into Metal and Other Materials. Metal has two types, cast and repousse. The medium of Other Materials includes stone, wood, ivory and other substances. Sculptural Style is divided into Region and Period. The general regions are Swat, North India, Kashmir, West Tibet, Nepal, Central Tibet, Northern China and Mongolia. The chronological periods begin in the Swat Valley around the 5/6th century up to the present time. Understanding the Subject topic of sculpture belongs to the field of religious studies/context and iconography. Understanding the medium and style belongs to study of art history. (Three Topics Outline).

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All of the different regions have their own art styles, iconographic choices and aesthetic preferences. Depending on the region, culture and religious tradition the styles and preferences can change. The art of the Gupta and Pala periods of North India along with the regions of the Swat Valley and Kashmir lasted for only certain lengths of time. These cultures and regions were then eclipsed through both natural events and social conditions by other communities and social groups. Western Tibet inherited and borrowed a number of stylistic characteristics of Kashmiri art between the 10th and 13th century approximately.

The artistic output of the Kathmandu Valley of present day Nepal has continued since the mid first millennium or earlier. However, the styles changed gradually every two hundred, one hundred and fifty, or one hundred years, changing more rapidly approaching the 20th century.

Tibetan art since the beginning of the 2nd millennium has modeled Buddhist and Hindu subjects of art on Indian, Kashmiri and Nepalese examples. With the waning of the Pala India and Kashmiri influence, Nepalese models became influential until the 15th century, and for painting slightly longer. Bhutan becomes prominent in art production from the 17th century up to the present.

Nepalese and Indian style art was introduced into the Xixia Kingdom in the early 13th century before the almost complete demise of the culture in the 14th century. The artist Araniko introduced Nepalese aesthetics for both sculpture and painting to the court of the Mongolian leader Kublai Khan during the Yuan period, mid 13th century. Himalayan style art was also popular during the Yongle and Xuande periods with large production outputs of primarily sculpture and textile works. Again, during the Kangxi and Qianlong periods, and the latter more importantly, were periods of a tremendous flourishing of workshops and the creation art with a distinctly Chinese aesthetic.

Clear examples of a Mongolian sculptural style (of Himalayan style art) are first dated from the time of the teacher Zanabazar (1635–1723). The town of Dolonnor, Inner Mongolia, was also a large center of art production with its own distinct character that was very different from the Zanabazar school style.

Jeff Watt 5-2020 [updated 12-2020]

(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links on the Sculpture Main Page.