Photographs from De long en large Ladakh by Jean Mansion - Édition Findakly. Copyright Lise Mansion

LETTRE-TDM-n°3 : REPOUSSE IN NEPAL

Par Alexander DUNCAN (1985)

The art of repoussé in Nepal is one of the glories of the greatest metal-crafting tradition of the Hima.layas. Less well known than the art of cire perdue castin[ practised with virtuoso skill by Nepalese sculptors, the repoussé of the Newars is iÀ fact even more astonishing. In cire perdue, the sculptor works a malleable material, either wax or clay, which will serve as the model foi the later product in metal ; in repoussé, on the other hand, the material sculpted is the metàl itself, a material dif f icult to work and unforgiving of mistakes. Great repoussé work when seen today has an air of the miraculous : we wonder at the hand that made it, assured that noone among today's craftsmen could equal the feat. Repoussé work in Nepal has ancient beginnings. The oldest dated work in this technique, the early 7th century gilt sheath coverlng the image of CANGU NARAYAN at one of Nepal s holiest VAISHNAVA shrines, is ÿounger thân the oldest dated work in cire perdue by only a few generations. The quaiity àt tf,is sheath would lead us to believe that it was the prod.uct of an artistic tradition already firmly established, so we can assume that repoussé was practised in Nepal well befoie the seventh century. From these early beginnings repoussé has been popular in Nepal up until the present day, and it is still being practised in certain atetiers in PAfAN, where in the back lanes of several quarters of the city one can still hear the 'it.p tap tap" of the repoussé worker at his craft. T!. term repoussé refers to the continual pounding, molding and shaping of the sheet of metal first from the front and then from the back. Usulally tne worJ. is laid on a bed of pitch, which provides the right degree of resistance to the punches and chisels used to mold the work from either side. When the general shapes and volumes, have been established by pounding out the sheet of metal (üsually beginning from the back), t!" pitch is melted off the work, which is then turned and onée agàin laid on a bed of pitch, at which point the f iner details etc, are worked in f rom the f ront. This Process _is repeated as many times as is necessary until the sculpture is completed. Repoussé. lends itself in particular to works in medium or low relief, and' it is principally in this form that we encounter Nepalese repoussé, both in househeld images and in architectural decoration. But among the chief glories of repoussé work from Nepal are the extraordinay images executéd in this teéhnique entir'ely in the round. These images often so resemble cire perdue castings that thé viewer who is given the chance to handle them is at f irst amazed by the lightness of the imàge. The production of such works requires the skill of a virtuoslo, for each elemeni of the image must be joined perfectly, and usually copper sheets must be so fashioned that they are joinded in the rear to create a fully thlee dimensional image.