A significant portion of the arts of Nepal—nestled in the Himalayas between India and China—was created by the Newars, a minority group concentrated in the Kathmandu Valley. Among other things, this talented community developed creative metalwork techniques that found equal favor in Tibet. Newari sculpture, a distinct genre since the Early Malla period (1200–1484), is noted for its lavish decoration, architectural qualities, and prolific use of gemstone inlay.
This temple plaque displays the hallmarks of Newari craftsmanship and design. The bejeweled, rectangular frame is crowned with two suspension rings, denoting its religious role as a portable architectural embellishment, similar to those found in the wooden temples dotting Nepal’s rugged terrain today. The central panel illustrates an ornately crowned seated figure of the Buddha in dhyanamudra (gesture of meditation) above a formal dais set within a floral prabha (aureole). On either side of this central figure is a standing monk framed on the outside by an expansive tree. The spaces between are bedecked with floral imagery and stylized designs made with dense filigree and inset with turquoise, pearl, garnet, and gemstones. Being portable, plaques such as this were valued in their own right as miniature shrines and votive works of art.