Nepali Metal Statues

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Newars are the major cast of the Kathmandu Valley, speaking Newari Language. Newars has mastered the art of Nepali Metal Statue from the ancient time of Nepal. Nepali Metal Statues are made of two method either cast by pouring molten metal into a prepared mold or hammered out of sheet metal. Thajya ( Casting method )  and  Thwajya ( Hammering Method ).

 

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Thajya ( Casting method )   Thwajya ( Hammering Method )
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Casting is done by the “ lost wax” (cire perdue) method, known in Newari as thajya. In this process a wax model is encased in clay then melted out ( “lost” ) to be replaced by molten metal. After the metal hardens the clay mold is broken away revealing a metal replica of the wax model. A solid wax model produces a solid casting; a hollow wax model with a clay core produces a hollow cast. For reasons of economy and ease in handling, usually only small images and objects are solid cast. All cast images require hand finishing by various processes.

 

The technique of hammering sheet metal into relief ( described in adjacent cases ) is called embossing or repousse. The latter is a French term loosely translated as “pushed again”, reference to the alternate front and back hammering the technique demands. Newar craftsmen use the term tho or thwajya, “hammering work”. Because of the unforgiving nature of the hard metal, in which unlike casting it is difficult to rectify mistakes, the practice of this difficult technique is relatively rare worldwide, especially today. Nepal is an exception with a continuous tradition, largely flourishing only in Patan. Repousse accounts for a wealth of sacred images, objects and architectural embellishment throughout Nepal. Large hollow images of dovetailed sheet metal are often supplemented with solid cast hands and other details.

Wax models may be one of a kind or replicas. Replicas are made by pressing a warmed harder wax around an original model, of wax, metal, or other material. When the hard wax is removed it becomes a mold into which soft wax is pressed to replicate the original.

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Metal  
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Today much of the metal used by Nepalese craftsmen is imported but traditionally copper was readily available in Nepal and in ancient times was an important export. Thus older cast images tend to be of copper though conventionally they are referred to as “bronze”, a mixture of copper and tin. The use of brass in casting is a recent phenomenon. Because of its relative malleability, sheet copper is the metal of choice for repousse work although brass, silver and gold are also used. Typically, images whether cast or hammered are “fire gilt” ( explained in this gallery ). From about the ninth century images were increasingly inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones. The use of paint and “cold gold” ( gold leaf applied without heat ) is confined to works made by Tibetans or by Newars for the Tibet trade.

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  History  
e6.jpg (33034 bytes) It has been the object of foreign esteem since at least the seventh century A.D. when a Chinese diplomat commented on it in his memories. When and from whom artists and craftsmen learned these skill is unknown but they were most likely introduced by way of the Indian sub-continent. Some three millennia B.C. at urban canters such as Mohenjo Daro images were already being cast by what appears to be the highly complex “lost wax” technique and by the second century A.D. there are literary references to it. e1.jpg (53683 bytes)
     
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In the Kathmandu Valley a well developed stone sculpture tradition was already in place by the second century but if paralleled by metal sculptures, as seems probable, none this early has been found. The oldest now known is a superb image of the Buddha cast in this very city in A.D. 591 but such perfection must rest on far older antecedents. The technique of embossing sheet metal with relief design ( repousse ) is at least equally old in Nepal as attested by a repousse image made in A.D. 607 to replace one “which had become dilapidate with the passage of time”.

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e7.jpg (31917 bytes) In a tradition that continues in Patan today, there are no large scale foundries or factories. Metal working is a small scale family affair of certain Newar castes, who conduct it at home. To the mid eighteenth century, cult objects literally poured from these workshops, not only to satisfy local needs, Hindu and Buddhist, but also foreign ones. e8.jpg (50509 bytes)
     
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In the thirteenth century at the request of Kublai Khan, the renowned Mongol warlord, deputation of some eighty Newar artists went to Tibet and their leader, Arniko, went on to fame as head of the imperial workshops in what is now Beijing. In succeeding centuries Tibetan Buddhists turned particularly to Nepalese metallurgists for cult objects, fashioned either in Nepal or in Tibet by domiciled Newars. The reduced patronage and curtailed Tibet trade that followed Nepal’s dynastic change in 1768/69 resulted in diminished production. Today even though the metallurgical arts largely sub serve the tourist industry, skilled artist-craftsmen continue to fulfill many commissions as of old, especially for foreign patrons who are practitioners of Buddhism. Among them, one can find a lot of artist working daily  at  Oku-bahal, Mahabouddha, Patan, artist of renown whose splendid works sanctify numerous shrines in Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan.

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Compiled by Nepal RHD