A Rare Bronze Reliquary & Cover

Tang Dynasty 唐 (618-907)

9 ¼ inches high




Provenance: West Coast Collection

Japanese Private Collection


The lower half of stem-cup shape with shallow rounded sides supported on a simple waisted stem and short cylindrical foot, the domed cover of stupa shape with raised central section surmounted by a seven canopies (chattras) of umbrella form with onion-shaped finial, some malachite and azurite encrustation, hole to one side


The practice of  enshrining sacred ashes with reliquaries was common to India, China, Korea and Japan. In India, the stupa, originally a funerary monument, was the symbol of the historical Buddha’s nirvana – his release from the karmic cycle of rebirth and suffering. As the repository of  his relics, it was at the center of monastic architecture and monastic worship. In China, its importance was reflected in the lofty forms of multi-storied pagodas, in which only the topmost ornaments preserved the hemispherical form of the Indian original.

For another very similar stupa-shaped bronze vessel dated to the 8th Century, with a finial with two umbrella’s and three onion-shaped knops, see the Tokyo National Museum Handbook, (Middle & Near East), Tokyo 1998, no. 52


See also the Special Exhibition, Sources of Japanese Buddhist Art, Catalogue, 29 April – 11 June, 1978, Tokyo National Museum, for a poly-chromed-wood Chinese or Central Asian example from the Museum fur Indische Kunst, Berlin-Dahlem, no. 9; a Korean example from a private collection, Seoul, no. 10; and a Japanese example from the Tokyo National Museum, no. 11


For a very similar Japanese example dated to the Nara period but with fewer umbrella’s, originally from the famous Horyu-ji pagoda, Nara (founded in AD 607) and now in the Tokyo National Museum, catalogued as the copper alloy Sahari, see - (metalworks), another example in the same collection has four containers including a gilt-bronze covered bowl, a smaller silver spherical bowl and a slightly smaller gold bowl along with a glass bottle.


See a very similar gilt-bronze example sold at Christie’s London, 7-10 December 1984, lot 732, but with the addition of fine engraving to the surface.