Seated figure of TaraOn display
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Seated figure of Tara
Datelate 12th century - early 13th century
Material and technique
Dimensions14 x 8.7 x 5.8 cm max. (height x width x depth)
No. of items
Bequeathed by Douglas and Mary Barrett, 2013.
Museum locationFirst floor | Gallery 32 | India from AD 600
This elegant representation of Tara, Buddhist goddess of protection, has the very long body with a well-defined waist and the refined elaboration of detail which characterize the sculpture of late Pala India. Her seven eyes watching over humanity are visible in the forehead, the two eyes of the face, the soles of the feet, and the palms. Tara's left hand shows the ring finger and thumb touching to clasp the stem of a now missing lotus. Her right hand is palm up to form the varada mudra of generosity, also retaining the stem of a now missing lotus. Her high piled chignon, flat disc earrings, and the crown, which retains the bar across the back of the head, are also characteristic of the sculpture of the late Pala period . Her perfect oval face is rounded and gentle, with very fine features: narrow almond eyes, small ears, thin nose and lips, with a very slight smile. The pronounced slant of her head is mirrored by the angle of her shoulders, with the slender body turning at the waist so that she sits straight in lotus position. This is a very graceful Tara. The treatment of the belt and sash has the edge modelled in relief, while the diaphanous fabric is barely suggested, with not even a pattern visible.
In general, the sculpture conveys a sense of great delicacy and an almost brittle elegance. Even the lotus stems rising from the pedestal are quite thin, and the full lotus flowers were probably too heavy for the thin stems, resulting in their breakage. Tara's body proportions are more slender, the hips and waist perhaps less voluptuous than the Pala ideal of a goddess, but she retains the characteristic elongated silhouette . The alloy is a deep brown, and there is no inlay now present, nor any indication of its loss . There are traces of darker colour alloy at the back, which is fully modelled to show the belt detail, but no other fabrics, and the back is not polished. The simplicity of the lotus pedestal is emphasized by the total lack of modelling on the lower two tiers. These considerations suggest that despite its numerous Pala characteristics, this sculpture may be more typical of Pala style images made in Tibet.
1 See a highly similar coiffure in a c. twelfth-century sculpture of Maitreya from Bihar, illus. in Huntington, The 'Pala-Sena' Schools of Sculpture, pl. 190.
2 See von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, pls. 96A-F, for eastern Indian sculptures of goddesses, and pl. 110C, for a Tara attributed to Indian artists working in Tibet, c. twelfth century.
3 See Pal, Asian Art at the Norton Simon Museum, vol. 1, pl. 143, for a similar dark brown alloy (but accentuated by silver inlay) and lotus pedestal, on a sculpture of a Maitreya Buddha from Bihar, twelfth century.
In: Heller, Amy, Early Himalayan Art (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2008)
Heller, Amy, Early Himalayan Art (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2008), no. 47 on p. 138, illus. p. 139