Place of Origin: Tibet
Date: 15th to 16th Century
Formed from a single piece of hardened leather, this scarce Tibetan guard would have been for protecting the left forearm. The small group of surviving examples are all for the left arm, and they were unlikely to have been made in pairs. A similar example in the Metropolitan Museum is illustrated by La Rocca in Warriors of the Himalayas: Rediscovering the Arms and Armour of Tibet, 2006, p.118, cat. no.35. Another, sold by myself, is illustrated in Arms and Armour from the East, 2016, p.84, cat. no.34.
The surface was lacquered and coated with tung oil, which has hardened and subsequently crazed. Such craquelure is often found on Tibetan lacquered objects.
Five vertical iron straps are riveted to the leather, each formed with an integral diamond or half-diamond-shaped panel that is pierced with stylised clouds and tipped with an arrowhead-shaped finial. The central strap is slightly larger than the adjoining ones and incorporates the largest panel. The leather edge is strengthened by means of an applied iron border (with a small area missing) which, like the straps, is chased with single lines highlighting the design. The inside of the guard has a good texture and patina. A single leather lace holds the two edges together to form a cuff.
These straps compare to the iron fittings on a very fine Tantric door, dating from the 16th to the 18th century (illustrated by Kamansky and Hayward (2004), fig.126, p.307). The diamond-shaped openwork cartouches on the door, and on other similar armguards, are probably from the same workshop. Kamansky and Hayward cite a similar door to the one they illustrate as being located in Nechung, the traditional seat of the State Oracle in Lhasa. This might provide some context for our forearm guard and also give us an indication of the high status of the artist that produced this pierced ironwork.