Head of Bhairava, the Wrathful Form of Shiva
Gilt copper with rock crystal and paint
H. 32 in. (81.3 cm); W. 36 in. (91.4 cm); D. 14 in. (35.6 cm)
Gift of Zimmerman Family Collection, 2012
Not on view
A fearsome form of Shiva, the wide-eyed and fanged Bhairava embodies rage. Flames emit from his mouth, eyes, eyebrows, and chin, and his red-colored hair is treated as an aureole of fire. It supports a diadem entwined with snakes and skulls and set with large rock crystals against a colored ground. Coiled snakes form his large pendant ear ornaments, which remain intact, although the original right ear proper is missing. A small hole pierces the inner mouth to receive the drinking tube used during the annual Indrayatra festival to funnel beer to bless eager devotees.This exquisitely wrought head is worked in repoussé copper with heavily applied mercury gilding to the face. The representation of Bhairava as an independent, masklike head is unique to the Newari metalworkers of Nepal, who were famous throughout the Himalayan world for their skills in working copper. This head is a quintessential example of Newari artistry at the highest level, in which subtly modeled surfaces are juxtaposed with elaborate repoussé and engraved forms of great complexity. The workmanship may be compared to that of the ritual crown on display in the Nepalese Gallery, worn by Nepalese Vajracarya Buddhist priests, which exhibits similarly impressive gilt-copper repoussé with stone inlays. This mask bears close comparison to an inscribed example in a private collection, dated 1560, and may date from the mid-sixteenth century.