Published: January 28, 2003
NEW YORK CITY from Monday, March 24, to Tuesday, April 1.
The exhibition, ” from the Himalayas and South Asia,” will coincide with The International Asian Art Fair, which takes place in New York from March 28 to April 2.
The earliest Tibetan painting in the exhibition dates from around the late Thirteenth Century and depicts Sarvavid Vairocana (The Omniscient Illuminator) preaching to a chorus of celestial beings. This classical work, inspired by the medieval painting traditions of north India, represents a celestial Buddha, Sarvavid Vairocana, who was especially popular in Tibet from the Eleventh Century to the Fourteenth Century. This painting was an important commission, indicated both by the fine quality and the unusually large size. It was probably made for a monastery or shrine where it would have been a major focus of worship.
The composition of the work, often seen in paintings of this period, is of a large, enthroned central figure surrounded by Buddhas, Indian Buddhist monks, male and female bodhisattvas. Of particular interest is the dress of the standing bodhisattva attendants who wear long skirts in three tiers of Chinese silk, a style that appears in Chinese Yuan period (1260-1368) images and may reflect Yuan stylistic influence in Tibet.
A work dating from around the Fifteenth Century depicting Ushnisha Sitatapatra (the Goddess of the Glorious White Parasol) is one of the earliest representations of this important and powerful goddess to have survived. She stands on a lotus holding a parasol, symbol of victory and of the triumph of freedom, and manifests her powerful liberation by her 1,000 heads stacked in five colored registers above her primary five faces. Her 1,000 arms are stretched out around her like a halo, each palm inscribed with an eye to suggest her omniscience, while her 1,000 feet are shown trampling demons, hindrances to liberation.
On the back of the painting is a partially legible inscription stating the name of the artist, who is described as a master artist (pir thogs rgyal po). Although artists of previous centuries are largely anonymous, during the Fifteenth Century several were known in their own lifetime as gifted painters. The style of this painting, with its bold palette, elongated figures and decorative motifs, closely resembles that to be seen in the Kumbum at Gyantse, an important Fifteenth Century temple complex in central Tibet.
Also of particular importance are models of a male and a female deer, (heights: 22 and 24 inches, respectively) dating from circa Eighteenth Century, that originate from Mongolia. The deer commemorate the occasion of Buddha Shakyamuni’s first sermon after attaining enlightenment. The teaching took place in Mrgavana (Deer Park) and the deer symbolize the audience, being gentle and attentive. Deer are traditionally presented flanking and looking up to a Dharma Wheel (chakra), the symbol of the first teaching, hence their upward gaze, and were usually found above Tibetan and Mongolian monastery gateways. These animals stand on lotus thrones that express their spiritual nature. The group is highly unusual being silvered rather than gilded, as is more typical of such sculpture. Mongolian artists, however, had a particular penchant for the use of silvered copper. Gilt copper deer from the Himalayan regions are represented in a number of museum collections, notably the Rietberg in Zurich and the Musée des Art Asiatiques, Nice.
A Tibetan Eighteenth Century painting shows Kalachakra and Vishvamata joined in an embrace as they dance on an opened lotus. Twenty-four armed Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) and the eight-armed Vishvamata hold attributes associated with their transcendent powers. Kalachakra is one of the principal deities in the Anuttarayoga Tantras, the final phase of esoteric Buddhist literature that arose in north India between the Eighth and Twelfth Centuries. The highly complex text associated with the practice of Kalachakra dates to around the end of the Tenth Century and was first translated into Tibetan in the early Eleventh Century. Kalachakra and Vishvamata stand at the center of a vast mandala described in texts as consisting of 722 deities. In this painting, they are surrounded by a smaller retinue consisting of eight eight-armed female deities and a fierce form of Kalachakra below. The palette is vivid and harmonious. A halo of fire enhances the exuberance of color and composition in this painting.
These works are among some 20 important acquisitions, including a drawing on cloth, dating from around the Seventeenth Century, depicting a Cosmological Mandala with the world mountain (Meru) at the center; a large and strongly modeled red sandstone head of the Buddha and a voluptuous railing pillar depicting a Yakshi, a female nature-spirit. Both these sculptures are from the area of Mathura, north India, and date from circa Second Century during the Kushan rule.
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