The Sacred Art of Tibet 2 | aziatische schilderijen | Ming Gallery



The second major part of the exhibition probes deeper into the nature and history of Tibetan Buddhism and its practices, particularly as represented by the founders, lamas and practice deities of the four main Buddhist orders of Tibet: the Nyingma (the Ancients), the Sakya (a name derived from the site of the main monastery), the Kagyu (Oral Tradition) and the Geluk (Virtue Tradition). Each order, though fundamentally similar in doctrinal teachings, has a distinct history, its own emphasis on the teachings, and its own preferred deities and way of teaching. In each of the four sections of this part the viewer will encounter some of the great lamas and saints of each tradition and the major deities in the practice of each order, offering a sampling of the special character of the order and its practice. This approach, which has not been stressed in previous exhibitions, helps to shed some light on the nature of Tibetan religious history, practice and art-forms. Eventually, it may be possible to ascertain some of the liturgical practices and prevailing artistic styles of the various orders during specific periods and even in some cases to relate them to specific monasteries.

The practice deities include not only the Buddhas, such as Shakyamuni and the other figures already encountered in Part I, but more customarily the special Tantric forms of Buddhas and bodhisattvas known in Tibetan asyidam (Sanskrit: isthtadevata). We are translating yidam as "archetype deity", as opposed to the commonly used translation "tutelary deity", because of its closer relevancy and accuracy to actual usage by the practitioner. The yidam or archetype deity is a paradigm for the practitioner who seeks to actually become, not just appeal to or seek protection from, the very archetype deity he or she is choosing in order to master and overcome the unwanted hindrances to enlightenment. The term archetype as used in the depth psychology of Jung has this similar connotation.

The archetype deities in Tantric Buddhism frequently take a fierce, terrible form or the form of the Buddha as yab-yum in the union of male and female as the aspect of the blissful union of wisdom (female) and compassion (male), the nature and expression of the enlightened state. The Tantric Buddhist deities are not to be misunderstood as demonic or erotic in any negative way, but as the Buddha's compassionate taking of these forms in order to help the practitioner to understand the deep seated egotistic drives of anger, passion, ignorance, greed, and so on, which obstruct one from the attainment of enlightenment. The fearful and gruesome symbols of skull crowns, garlands of severed heads, skull bowls of blood and awful weapons all symbolise the unwanted ego centred drives or the weapons needed for the defeating or killing of ego rooted conceptions which are hindrances to enlightenment. In the artistic formula­tion of these archetype deities and their realms, often portrayed as mandalas, the Tibetan artist has fre­quently achieved the greatest heights of expression in Buddhist art.

First Buddhist teaching monastery at Samye in circa 779. Usually Padma Sambhava is depicted in the royal robes of Uddiyana with his special hat topped with a shamanic eagle's feather. In paintings he is most often shown surrounded by his first twenty-five disciples, with scenes from his life, or in his Glorious Copper Mountain Paradise. Examples of all of these types appear in the exhibit, including Figure 9 from the collection of Mr and Mrs John Gilmore Ford. This presents Padma Sambhava with his two consorts, his twenty-five disciples along the sides, King Trisong Detsen and Shantarakshita flanking the lotus stalk of the pedestal, Shakyamuni with Amitayus and Shadakshari Avalokiteshvara above Padma Sambhava, and in the centre of the bottom row the archetype deities Chemchok Heruka, Guru Drakpoche and the female Tutob Dagmo.

Elements of this spectacular and rather large painting, possibly the oldest known tangka of Padma Sambhava, relate to styles as early as the eleventh and twelfth century. These elements include the pastel colours (known in twelfth century manuscript paintings), the style of Padma Sambhava's consort Mandarava at his right, and the raised gold halo borders (similar to those in the wall-paintings of the Dukhang and Sumstek at Alchi, circa mid and third quarter of the eleventh century). However, these features continue to appear in paintings of the thirteenth and fourteenth century and the style of Padma Sambhava's drapery with its loose and fluid folds suggests an acquaintance with Chinese art styles, which would tend to suggest a later dating, possibly in the fourteenth century.

Nyingma Order has as its most prominent figure Padma Sambhava, the great yogi from Uddiyana (probably present-day Swat in northern Pakistan) who came to Tibet in the second half of the eighth century to help tame the country and establish the secret visions manuscript of the Fifth Dalai Lama, finished in 1674 with the illustrations executed between 1674 and 1681 (S. Karmay, Secret Visions of the Fifth Dalai Lama, London, 1988, page 25). Some tangkas in the exhibition have close stylistic affinities with the figures in this manuscript. Also providing consequential new data is a spectacular black tangka of Penden Lhamo, presented for the first time in this exhibition, from the Mr and Mrs John Gilmore Ford Collection. From inscriptions on the tangka, it can be dated to before 1642, confirming the existence of the black tangka genre by that time. The particular Newark example is a fine and relatively early example; its firm line suggests a style in the late seventeenth to early eighteenth century. Overall, the prevailing atmosphere of the art in the Nyingmapa room is one of sombre mysteriousness impregnated with a vigorous intensity.

Sakya Order or Sakyapa's room, by contrast, is characterised by brilliance, monumentality and a sense of highly controlled order. The array of lamas is impressive, including the early founders of the order (Kunga Nyingpo) and its great debaters and scholastics (Sakya Pandita and Buton). The Sakyapa were prolific producers of Buddhist art and their monasteries, mostly in the Tsang region of Tibet, continued through the centuries to create masterpieces of Tibetan art. In the period from the eleventh to sixteenth century Sakyapa art is dominantly, but certainly not exclusively, related to the artistic idioms of the Indo-Nepalese lineages.

The large tangka of Kunga N yingpo, llike the date, the provenance of this work is difficult to pinpoint. Although it is likely to be from the central regions of Tibet, the possibility of other regions cannot yet be ruled out until further evidence appears. Certainly, however, this tangka stands as impressive testimony of a significant early Nyingmapa painting tradition. Another work in the exhibit from the Victoria and Albert Museum shows the later development of this type of Padma Sambhava paint­ing around the second half of the fifteenth century. Both of these examples seem to represent a particular "Nyingmapa School" or stylistic tradition from at least the fourteenth to fifteenth century.

A tangka from the Newark Museum showing the father-mother form of Guru Drakpoche, a fierce form ofPadma Sambhava, is of the type known as "black tangka" (Tibetan: nagtang). This type of painting portrays images in lines of gold and pastels as well as deep colours against an amorphous black background. Figures seem to emerge from the depths of the dark ground, which signifies not negativity or nothingness, but the darkness prior to the clear light of enlightenment. There are five examples of black tangkas in this exhibition, this one clearly of the Nyingmapa tradition by its iconography and with its image of Padma Sambhava at the top. Interestingly, this tangka was obtained in Kham, eastern Tibet, possibly indicating an eastern provenance for the work.

Several pieces of evidence indicate the prevalence of black tangkas by at least the second half of the seventeenth century. One is the recently published formerly of the Tucci Collection, came from Ngor Monastery, a great Sakyapa establishment founded in 1429, the probable date of this magnificent work, now in the R.H. Ellsworth Collection. The two dimensional composition of the work is clearly in the traditional mode, but the monumentality of the main figure suggests something of the styles of the fourteenth to early fifteenth century arhats In addition, there is a strong element of humanistic naturalism in the main figure, generated through its massive breadth, subtle colouring, and naturalisticalIy modelled areas of the head, large hands, and subtluedly coloured drapery. These elements appear surprisingly close to some paintings of the early Renaissance period in Italy, such as seen in the frescoes of San Marco of the fifteenth century. Although this may appear improbable, certainly with the active trade of the Tibetans along the routes of Asia it should not be surprising that artistic models could travel even such distances at this time.

Most of the works in this section date from the fourteenth to sixteenth century, a period of apparent florescence for art under the Sakyapa. Two tangkas in this exhibition, both from the Zimmerman Family Collection, add particularly significant datable evidence around the late fourteenth century. One is a four goddess mandala of the Vajravalli, which was identified with the help of Venerable Losang Chogyen, the Namgyal  College's expert on mandalas, from a text written by Jangkya Hutuktu, Ngawang Chonden, the famous lama of Peking in the eighteenth century (a statue from the Hermitage collection of this notable personage appears in the Gelukpa section).

The other is the Raktayamari mandala tangka. The inscription on the back of this superb tangka says it was the personal meditation tangka of Khedzun Kunga Lekpa, one of Tsong Khapa's teachers, who lived in the latter half of the fourteenth century. Raktayamari, the red form of Manjushri as conqueror of death, appears in the father-mother form in the centre of his mandala palace. Together they represent the union of wisdom and compassion. In circular vignettes created by the vine motif around the exterior of the sacred area appear archetype deities (in the large corner vignettes) and an array of the World Gods (in the smaller vignettes). The theme of the World Gods, including Indra, Brahma, Agni, Varuna, Ganesha, etc., is a popular one at this time, appearing on many tangkas of the Sakyapa, from the fourteenth to sixteenth century in particular.

The style of this Raktayamari tangka is characterised by precision of the pen-like line drawing, softness of the occasional modelling, a dense moss­green colour for the vine motifs, and a lively energy in the rather simple and plain but potent portrayal of the figures. Together with other tangkas of a similar style, such as a large Guhyasamaja in the Zimmerman Family Collection, a pair of Sakyapa lamas in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (P. Pal and H.C. Tseng, Lamaist Art, Boston, 1969, Number 27), and the large Paramasukha-Chakrasamvara in the Ells­worth Collection, the latter also in the exhibition, this important work clearly documents a major style existing around the end of the fourteenth century, probably from the Tsang region and possibly related to one school or monastery.

Kagyu Order or Kagyupa derive their Tibetan lineage largely from Marpa, Milarepa and Milarepa's disciples, particularly Gampopa. They favour the yogic practices of the mahasiddhas, especially Tilopa and N aropa. A number of suborders developed rather early, mainly from Gampopa's disciples, notably the Pagmodrupa, the Drigungpa, the Drukpa and the Taklungpa. Considerable attention is given in this exhibition to the charismatic figure of Milarepa and to portraits of lamas of the various Kagyupa suborders.

The statue of Milarepa in the Zimmerman Family Collection is both a rare early and large sculpture of this beloved Tibetan yogi, who is credited with achieving Buddhahood in his lifetime. Milarepa is shown in his typical posture, his hand raised to his ear and a bowl, possibly the nettle bowl from his early meditation days, in his left hand. He is garbed in the simple cotton robe which he wore year round in his Himalayan abode, and a meditation strap is slung around his right shoulder. The broad planes, selective creases of the drapery, and the somewhat stiff, naive posture and expression clearly relate to the style of the late fourteenth century as seen in the portrayal of the figures in the Raktayamari tangka. These elements develop into the richer and even more monumental styles of the sculptures of the Gyantse Kumbum of around the second quarter of the fifteenth century. In addition to this important statue, a number of other sculptures in the exhibition help to elucidate the styles of sculpture in the fourteenth century, which was a relatively active period for sculpture in both the western and the central regions of Tibet.

In the famous set of nineteen tangkas (of which three appear in this exhibition) from the Folkens Museum Etnografiska in Stockholm, the life of Milarepa is presented in the highly idealistic realism of the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century. These paintings represent the heights which the styles associated with the eastern Tibetan schools could attain. Surrounding a sublimely beautiful central figure of Milarepa, scenes from a period of his life unfold like a colourful, shadowless drama of high intensity and charming humour executed with a polished technique and realistic style which borders on the utmost perfection. Because of its realism we can partake of the events; because of its idealism we marvel at the incredible other-worldliness of it. This simultaneous merger of the earthly and other-worldly is a feature of the best of Tibetan art which by style alone suggests the Buddhist view of reality: the indivisible interpenetration of all worlds, including the mundane and transcendent, samsara and nirvana.

The female Buddha Vajravarahi is a primary archetype deity of the Kagyupa. Two magnificent works of Vajravarahi appear in this section of the exhibition: the dramatic, nearly life-size bronze sculpture in the Musee Guimet and a stunning tangka from the Khara Khoto collection in the State Hermitage. The latter is one of eight works in the exhibition from the Central Asian site of Khara Khoto (Chinese: Hei-shui-ch'eng, Heishuicheng), now in the western part of Inner Mongolia. From the third decade of the eleventh century Khara Khoto was a garrison town of the Hsi Hsia (Xixia, 982-1227) kingdom of the Tanguts in Central Asia. The town and the kingdom itself were destroyed by the forces of Genghis Khan in 1226-1227. During two expeditions to Khara Khoto in 1907 and 1924, the Russian explorer P.K. Koslov recovered about three thousand objects. Among his most spectacular discoveries were the paintings from the now famous suburgan (Mongolian for stupa). Some of the paintings included tangkas in the "Tibetan" style; they constitute one of the most interesting groups of materials not only for the study of Central Asian art but also for the study of early Tibetan art. Currently being studied by the scholars of the Hermitage, the Khara Khoto materials still pose many questions as to dating, sources of the varied styles, identity of the artists, iconography, historical conditions and so on.

Some evidence from Chinese sources notes the invitation by the Hsi Hsia kingJen-tsung LiJen-hsiao (Renzong Lirenxiao) in 1159 to the First Karmapa, Dusum Kyenpa (1110-1193), also known as the First Black Hat Karmapa. Although he did not accept, it is recorded that his disciple Tsong Sopa went to the Hsi Hsia kingdom and received the honorific title of "Supreme Teacher" (Tonko Bakko Kkutsuin Chugoku Sekkutsu, Tokyo, 1980-1982, Volume V, page 157). Evidence such as this, as well as the presence of the portrayal of the Black Hat Karmapa on another of the Khara Khoto tangkas (also in this exhibit), clearly suggests a Kagyupa, especially Karma Kagyu, relation with the Hsi Hsia after 1159. For this reason a number of the Khara Khoto tangkas have been placed in the Kagyupa section of the exhibition.

In this splendid painting of Vajravarahi, undoubtedly one of the greatest representations in Buddhist art of this deity, the powerful red bodied yogini dances against a fiery aura between six smaller yoginis. To the sides are monks and mahasiddhas above are other manifestations of herself and a father-mother form; below are six dancing goddesses holding offerings. The format is typical of the early Tibetan tangkas with a highly two-dimensional set­ting and formal compartmentalisation of the picture plane, providing a series of registers and equal spaces for the smaller accompanying figures. The main deity looms as dominant in the exact centre of this schematic design. Yet, despite the spaceless and formal composition, the main figure has a strongly naturalistic form that seems to make it credible as a powerful entity having a living presence that forcefully projects into our world. Her big body and delicate but profuse bone jewels show a style remarkably close to elements of Oris san and Hoysala sculptures of eastern and southern Indiaof the twelfth to early thirteenth century. The long mass of black hair and the general form of this image also relate to a Vajravarahi in an eastern Indian manuscript painting of circa the late twelfth century (S. andJ. Huntington, Leaves from the Bodhi Tree, Day ton, 1990, Number 60). The stylistic sources for the Khara Khoto works appear to be complex, just like those of early Tibetan art. Overall, the art of this section emits a bright atmosphere stressing a sense of miraculous beauty Geluk Order or Gelukpa grew from the reformed, revitalised and clarified Buddhist teachings and practices undertaken and achieved by the lama Tsong Khapa (1357-1419), who followed and extended the work of Atisha and the early Kadampa order. The Gelukpa became the most prominent and powerful order under the successive Dalai Lamas, the first of whom had been a disciple of Tsong Khapa. Temporal power as leader of Tibetand its government was bestowed upon the Fifth Dalai Lama in the mid seventeenth century and, under his guidance and that of subsequent Dalai Lamas, the vision of a Buddhistically oriented society and government began to take firmer shape in Tibet. This government was centred in Lhasa in the Potala Palace of the Dalai Lamas, the Jokhang Temple (earliest temple of Tibet, founded circa 640 by Songtsen Gambo), and the other great monasteries around Lhasa. The powerful influences of Tibetan Buddhism in other countries of Asia, particularly Ch'ing (Qing, 1644-1911) period Chinaand Mongolia, largely through the auspices of the Gelukpa, stimulated an international aspect to Tibetan Buddhism and its arts from the seventeenth to the twentieth century.

The monumental statue of Tsong Khapa, brought from Charhar, Inner Mongolia, by the Swedish geographer and explorer Sven Hedin and now in the Folkens Museum Etnografiska, epitomises the vigour and grandeur of late seventeenth century sculpture and the powerful influences of the international Tibetan style. With its heavy robes, fluid planes and solemn composure, this statue is one of the finest known of Tsong Khapa who, as expounder of the Buddha's wisdom, is shown with sword (missing) and a book of the Wisdom Sutras as his attributes. It clearly demonstrates, along with three other large statues from the same site (a Vajrapani, which opens the exhibition as its protector, a Manjushri and a Shadakshari Avalokiteshvara) and a magnificent Maitreya Bodhisattva from Harvard University's Sackler Museum also in the exhibition, the flourishing and high quality of the Mongolian school of Buddhist art of circa 1700 and its relationship with the international spread of Tibetan Buddhism and its art.

One of the most important paintings of the western Tibetan school of the Guge "renaissance" period is the portrait of the Third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso, who converted the Mongol Altan Khan to Buddhism in 1578 and founded the Kumbum  Templeat the birth site of Tsong Khapa in Amdo, northeastern Tibet. This is a rare portrait of Sonam Gyatso, probably dating from the period of his lifetime, circa the third quarter of the sixteenth century. There was considerable activity in the Guge capital of Tsaparang around the second quarter to the mid sixteenth century, as witnessed in the building of the White  Temple and other temples at Tsaparang. Some of the princes of Guge are known to have met the Third Dalai Lama in about the 1540s. There are five Guge "renaissance'~ period tangkas in the exhibi­tion, mostly dating from circa the second half of the fifteenth century, but this one reveals the style of the middle phase of this period. It is a little delicate and light, has a more elaborate and loose style of drapery and a slightly mannered elongation of the limbs, and incorporates more pronounced landscape elements than seen in the fifteenth century examples.

In this painting the central figure of Sonam Gyatso is not so large as in the early Tibetan styles and he seems set back within the rudimentary landscape and the interesting profusion of architectural elements. The light and mystical aura of the scene provides an apt setting for the events of his "esoteric" biography, which are presented around the smiling and gracious lama. This painting is extremely helpful in providing datable evidence for other paintings of the sixteenth century, which is severely lacking in adequate mile­stones to chart the chronological and regional developments in this transitional period that witnesses the turn towards greater naturalism and pronounced regional styles during a time of general political disunity.

Some of the major archetype deities and protector figures popular with the Gelukpa are represented in the exhibition: Paramasukha-Chakrasamvara, Guhyasamaja, Yamantaka, Mahakala, Yama, Raktayamari, Naro Dakini, Penden Lhamo, Vaisravana, Begtse and others. They are mostly portrayed in the dramatic and vivid styles which came to be associated with the Gelukpa from the seventeenth to nineteenth century, including those in the "New Menri" style. The latter style developed from the mid seventeenth century and is noted for its rich and luxurious realism, strong line and baroque-like vigour. It also became the standard for the international Tibetan style that spread mainly with the influence of the Gelukpas to Mongolia, present-day Buryat A.S.S.R., Manchuria, China and elsewhere.

The large painting in the Zimmerman Family Collection of Sertrap, a protector who had been prominent with the Kadampa, dramatises the awesome vitality in this later phase of Tibetan art from the late eighteenth to nineteenth century.  The huge figure of Sertrap, "possessor of a golden cuirass", dominates the scene as in full warrior's regalia he rides his brown horse above the walls of his palace. The presence in this painting of the lama Ngog Loden Sherap, a Kadampa translator who is the highest Gelukpa reincarnation in Kham and who reincarnates in lamas of the Dagyab monastic university near Chamdo, could indicate that this wild and handsome painting is from that area. Sertrap is the special protector of this monastery as well as of the Nyagre College of Drepung University in Lhasa, where the Dagyab lamas go for their higher education. The bright blue and green colours could also suggest such a provenance in the eastern Tibetan area, although by the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century the distinctions of regional style were broken down and there is a homogeneity which makes it rather difficult to suggest provenance on the basis of style for this time. The wild and fearsome aspects of the many archetype and protector figures create an overwhelming atmosphere of power in this Gelukpa section of the exhibit.


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