MATERIAL: Clay
DIMENSIONS: 15 in. (38.1 cm) high
NOTES: Provenance: The Richard Harris Collection, Chicago. Art collector Richard Harris, while visiting an art fair in 2001 in the Netherlands about the inevitability of death, had an epiphany of sorts. Why not start collecting art that deals with death as its theme? Harris now owns over 3000 pieces of art and artifacts that deal with the subject of death. The collection spans over 6,000 years in time, with historical as well as contemporary works.

Compare with smaller clay heads from Mongolia sold at Bonhams, Paris, 10-16 December 2022, lots 331 & 332.
ITEM ID: 5455
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A Polychromed Clay Mahakala Head

DATE
Notes: 18th/19th Century

A polychromed clay Mahakala head.

Mahakala is a deity common to Hinduism and Tantric Buddhism. In Buddhism, Mahakala is regarded as the sacred Dharmapala (“Protector of the Dharma”), while in Hinduism, Mahäkala is a fierce manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva and the consort of the goddess Mahäkält; he most prominently appears in the Kalikula sect of Shaktism. Mahãkala also appears as a protector deity in Vajrayana, Chinese Esoteric, and Tibetan Buddhism (see Citipati), and also in the Chan and Shingon traditions. He is known as Däheitian and Daaih’haktin (* I F) in Mandarin and Cantonese Daeheukcheon (CH= l) in Korean, Dai Häc Thiên in Vietnamese, and Daikokuten(大黑天)inJapanese.

Mahayana Buddhism, and all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, rely on Mahakala as guardian deity. He is depicted in a number of variations, each with distinctly different qualities and aspects. He is also regarded as the emanation of different beings in different cases, namely Avalokitesvara (Wylie: spyan ras gigs) or Cakrasamvara (Wylie: ‘khor lo be mchog). Mahakala is almost always depicted with a crown of five skulls, which represent the transmutation of the five klesas (negative afflictions) into the five wisdoms.

The most notable variation in Mahakala’s manifestations and depictions is in the number of arms, but other details can vary as well. For instance, in some cases there are Mahakalas in white, with multiple heads, without genitals, standing on varying numbers of various things, holding various implements, with alternative adornments, and so on. Mahakala is mentioned in many Chinese Buddhist texts, although iconographic depictions of him in China were rare during the Tang and Song periods. He eventually became the center of a flourishing cult after the 9th century in the kingdoms of Nanzhao and Dali in what is now the province of Yunnan, a region bordering Tibet, where his cult was also widespread. Due to Tibetan influence, his importance further increased during the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty, with his likeness being displayed in the imperial palace and in Buddhist temples inside and outside
the capital.