The Sacred Art of Tibet 3
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PART 3

TIBET PERFECTED WORLDS

The final part of the exhibition leads the viewer into the celestial realms of the transcendent bodhisattvas, Buddhas and Pure   Lands , and to the mandala core. A quality of heightened magnificence and unbounded energy with an underlying composure pervades the art works of these sections Cosmic Bodhisattvas presents an astonishing group: some are fierce, most have multiple arms and some have many faces. They present an amazing sight of female and male figures showing the active and powerful intent of their compassion. A stunning and unusual sculpture is that of Ushnishasitatapattra, dating to circa the mid eighteenth century, from the Hermitage collection. With a panoply of one thousand arms and a stack of one thousand faces she controls the demons, devils, rulers and animals locked into the cubes beneath her feet. This deity is known in some large stucco sculptures in temples in Ladakh, but is rarely seen in large metal sculptures, possibly because of the technical difficulties of the representation. This work offers a glimpse of the incredibly shocking yet beautiful aspects of the celestial manifestations of the bodhisattvas. Other examples in this section include forms seldom encountered in Buddhist art, such as the wrathful eight armed Green Tara and the fierce black Vajrasattva.

Cosmic Buddha presents more examples of the Khara Khoto paintings and a group of early sculptures from the eleventh to fifteenth century, mainly of the Five Transcendent Buddhas who are the main icons of this section: Vairochana, Akshobhya, Ratna­sambhava, Amoghasiddhi and Amitabha. These sculptures help document the developments in west­ern Tibetan sculpture in particular, which has a special stylistic interpretation combining elements of sophisticated figural style with conscious distortions, stiff scarves and prominent crowns. Also special to this section is a mid eighteenth century Medicine Buddha mandala in sculpture (forty-nine extant pieces out of the original fifty) from the Hermitage collection. Recently identified, it is a spectacular and the only nearly complete example known in any Western collection.

The monumental painting of Amitayus in this section from the Museum of Fine Arts , Boston , is possibly the finest tangka of this deity from the period of the great wall-paintings of the Kumbum in Gyantse of circa the second quarter of the fifteenth century. It has the grandeur of conception, rich colouring, carefully patterned textile designs, use of raised gold, and beautifully curved but slightly stiff style of drapery depiction characteristic of the Kum­bum wall-paintings. The contrast between the large central figure of Amitayus and the smaller surround­ing deities and pavilions set against the two­dimensional background creates an impression of vast and grand scale typical of the Kumbum style. This painting and another from the same museum, the Raktayamari father-mother also in this exhibit, are two of the most magnificent tangkas, both probably from the Tsang region, of this extraordinary period in the history of Tibet in the early fifteenth century.

Pure   Land Paradises are the realms of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and the special abodes of the great ones, such as the Glorious Copper Mountain Paradise of Padma Sambhava, the Himalayan abode of Milarepa, or the realm of Shambhala. Examples of these appear in the exhibition along with the Refuge Tree of Tsong Khapa and the Pure   Lands of Manjushri and Akshobhya.

Even this world is conceived as a Pure   Land , and is represented by the land of Tibet in a large painting of the temples of Lhasa from the Royal   Ontario   Museum in Toronto of the nineteenth century. In a sweeping panoramic view the Potala,Jokhang and the monasteries of Drepung, Sera and Ganden are shown among green rolling hills. The Dalai Lama, riding a horse and garbed in a yellow robe, goes towards the western stupa gate of Lhasa . In this large painting with its unified view, the architecture and landscape become the primary subjects as special themes in themselves. Although the theme of sacred sites has been known in the paintings of the Tun-huang (Dunhuang) caves at the border of China and Central Asia from the ninth and tenth century where the famous mid tenth century Cave 61 murals depict the sacred Mount Wu-t'ai (Wutaishan), it does not seem to have developed as a special theme in Tibet and Mongolia (possibly the provenance of this painting) until the eighteenth to nineteenth century.

The exhibition ends with several huge paintings from the Musee Guimet depicting Shambhala and Offerings of Ornaments, and with two mandalas: a beautiful large gilded shrine of Mount Meru, the Cosmic Mountain, from the eighteenth century in the Musee Guimet , and a seven by seven feet coloured particle Kalachakra mandala, which will be made newly at each venue during the time of the exhibit by the monks of the Namgyal College from Dharamsala, India. These represent respectively the graphic and the abstract rendering of the mandala theme which, as the underlying unifying concept of the entire exhibition, also acts to subsume and unite all the works and all the viewers of the exhibition.

 


 
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