Online Collection

Collections



Asian Art Museum Logo
Svayambhu Stupa
Place of Origin: Nepal
Date: 1700-1800
Materials: Gilded copper
Dimensions: H. 20 3/4 in x W. 10 in x D. 10 in, H. 52.7 cm x W. 25.4 cm x D. 25.4 cm
Credit Line: The Avery Brundage Collection
Department: Himalayan Art
Collection: Metal Arts
Object Number: B60B212
On Display: Yes
Location: Gallery 12

Description

Label: This gilded sculpture is a symbolic replica of the Svayambhu Stupa, a key monument of Nepali Buddhism. Stupas like this one were created to contain the relics of the Buddha, his disciples, or even his teachings. In form, the stupa takes the shape of a mandala: it is oriented to the four directions of ordinary space, and an axis marks its center. When constructed according to this form and consecrated with the proper ritual procedures, the stupa seals the power of the objects it contains. Since such potency cannot leak out of a stupa, the benefits of objects sealed inside are theoretically available forever. 

More Information

Exhibition History: "The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Artl", LACMA, 10/5/2003 - 1/9/2004, Columbus Museum of Art, 2/8/2004 - 5/9/2004

"Enter the Mandala: Cosmic Centers and Mental Maps of Himalayan Buddhism", Asian Art Museum, March 14 — October 26, 2014

"Hidden Gold: Mining its Meaning in Asian Art", Asian Art Museum, March 4, 2016-May 8, 2016
Additional Label:

This sculpture is a replica of the Svayambhu Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal, which is regarded by the Buddhists of Nepal as the center of the cosmos. As such, it constitutes the very location where creation initially took place. Accordingly, the stupa is replete with symbols of genesis. Its central feature is its dome, called an anda or egg in reference to its perceived generative capacity. Just beneath it are two rows of lotus petals. Since lotus flowers seemingly emerge by themselves from the bodies of water in which they grow, the lotus is a symbol of creation in many Asian cultures. Below the lotus is a square, stair-stepped feature pinched at its waist like an hourglass. This feature is the symbolic form of the central mountain of the cosmos, called Mount Meru. Viewed from above, another set of imagery associated with the center of creation can be discerned: it is the pattern of nested squares and circles called a mandala. The visual lesson is clear and simple: the place of origin lies at the center of the cosmos.

In Buddhist thought, the same generative power embodied by the Svayambhu Stupa can be accessed by replicating the original. But there is a practical problem: in the physical world replicas of the creative center of the cosmos will decay over time. Such replicas must therefore be reconsecrated at intervals in order for the symbolism they employ to remain active.

For the Svayambhu Stupa in Kathmandu, such reconsecration involves a critical but dangerous step: it must be regilded with a technique using fire and mercury. In such fire gilding, which you can see in the accompanying video, mercury is heated to 675 degrees Fahrenheit, and then finely ground gold is added to it. When the very poisonous mercury begins to smoke, the gold can be pushed through a sieve to create a butter-like amalgam. The amalgam is then applied to the surface of the object to be gilded. This Svayambhu replica was gilded using this technique.

(Label from Exhibition Hidden Gold: Mining Its Meaning in Asian Art)


Label: This gilded sculpture is a symbolic replica of the Svayambhu Stupa, a key monument of Nepali Buddhism. Stupas like this one were created to contain the relics of the Buddha, his disciples, or even his teachings. In form, the stupa takes the shape of a mandala: it is oriented to the four directions of ordinary space, and an axis marks its center. When constructed according to this form and consecrated with the proper ritual procedures, the stupa seals the power of the objects it contains. Since such potency cannot leak out of a stupa, the benefits of objects sealed inside are theoretically available forever. 
Exhibition History: "The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Artl", LACMA, 10/5/2003 - 1/9/2004, Columbus Museum of Art, 2/8/2004 - 5/9/2004

"Enter the Mandala: Cosmic Centers and Mental Maps of Himalayan Buddhism", Asian Art Museum, March 14 — October 26, 2014

"Hidden Gold: Mining its Meaning in Asian Art", Asian Art Museum, March 4, 2016-May 8, 2016
Expanded Label:

This sculpture is a replica of the Svayambhu Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal, which is regarded by the Buddhists of Nepal as the center of the cosmos. As such, it constitutes the very location where creation initially took place. Accordingly, the stupa is replete with symbols of genesis. Its central feature is its dome, called an anda or egg in reference to its perceived generative capacity. Just beneath it are two rows of lotus petals. Since lotus flowers seemingly emerge by themselves from the bodies of water in which they grow, the lotus is a symbol of creation in many Asian cultures. Below the lotus is a square, stair-stepped feature pinched at its waist like an hourglass. This feature is the symbolic form of the central mountain of the cosmos, called Mount Meru. Viewed from above, another set of imagery associated with the center of creation can be discerned: it is the pattern of nested squares and circles called a mandala. The visual lesson is clear and simple: the place of origin lies at the center of the cosmos.

In Buddhist thought, the same generative power embodied by the Svayambhu Stupa can be accessed by replicating the original. But there is a practical problem: in the physical world replicas of the creative center of the cosmos will decay over time. Such replicas must therefore be reconsecrated at intervals in order for the symbolism they employ to remain active.

For the Svayambhu Stupa in Kathmandu, such reconsecration involves a critical but dangerous step: it must be regilded with a technique using fire and mercury. In such fire gilding, which you can see in the accompanying video, mercury is heated to 675 degrees Fahrenheit, and then finely ground gold is added to it. When the very poisonous mercury begins to smoke, the gold can be pushed through a sieve to create a butter-like amalgam. The amalgam is then applied to the surface of the object to be gilded. This Svayambhu replica was gilded using this technique.

(Label from Exhibition Hidden Gold: Mining Its Meaning in Asian Art)


  • Continue Exploring the CollectionContinue Exploring the Collection