Most Nepali art is worked in stone, metal, wood or terracotta. Compared to other art forms, there is very little painting in the history of the country’s art, but the fine, filigree detail of Nepali sculptures, in these four materials, is as delicate as any brushstroke.
The earliest expression is Buddhist, dating from about the third century BC. Its surviving examples are four stupas in Patan, Kathmandu and the Ashoka pillar at Lumbini.
Nepali art reached a zenith in the Lichavi dynasty. Working in stone, local artists learned all that they could from India’s Gupta, Deccan and Pala schools of art. These the refined and presented in indigenous creations with distinctive Nepali features.
They also began to work in a variety of metals, producing incredibly wrought bronzes of mythical and religious figures. Some of their 1,500-year-old works, exquisite in their detail and imagery, still survive in Kathmandu valley.
The metallic sculptures of Tara, Vajrapani, Maitreya, Umamaheshwara and the Buddha are among the most illustrious, both for their style and their antiquity.
More recent examples of Nepali metal work exist in the hollow cast statues of kings and queen, in the gilded sculpted doors and in other artifacts of the ancient art cities of Patan, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu.
Tibetan bronzes are notable for the holes set in them for paper prayers, mantras, botive offering of grain and precious stones, or for religious icons.
Dating some of these masterpieces defies the art historian. Inscribed with the images of a pantheon of gods, both Buddhist and Hindu, most are believed to be form the Pala or an earlier era.