A thangka of Shakyamuni's Parinirvana School of Choying Dorje, Eastern Tibet or Yunnan Province, China, late 17th century
Lot 34
A thangka of Shakyamuni's Parinirvana
School of Choying Dorje, Eastern Tibet or Yunnan Province, China, late 17th century
Sold for US$ 389,000 inc. premium

Lot Details
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A thangka of Shakyamuni's Parinirvana School of Choying Dorje, Eastern Tibet or Yunnan Province, China, late 17th century A thangka of Shakyamuni's Parinirvana School of Choying Dorje, Eastern Tibet or Yunnan Province, China, late 17th century A thangka of Shakyamuni's Parinirvana School of Choying Dorje, Eastern Tibet or Yunnan Province, China, late 17th century A thangka of Shakyamuni's Parinirvana School of Choying Dorje, Eastern Tibet or Yunnan Province, China, late 17th century
A thangka of Shakyamuni's Parinirvana
School of Choying Dorje, Eastern Tibet or Yunnan Province, China, late 17th century
Distemper on silk.
Image: 24 1/2 x 16 5/8 in. (62.3 x 42.2 cm);
With silks: 40 x 22 1/2 in. (101.6 x 57.2 cm)

Footnotes

  • 西藏東部或中國雲南 十七世紀晚期 確映多傑畫派 釋迦牟尼圓寂唐卡

    This enigmatic painting stems from a set illustrating the Twelve Deeds of Shakyamuni. The Ninth, and final within the set, it depicts his departure into parinirvana with a crowd of mourners from all walks of life, some anxious, some grief-stricken, some aghast, but most presenting some form of offering to the Buddha. Below his altar-like couch, two dogs crouch mournfully near four toddlers inspecting the goods in the offering pile. Above the central crowd, another group gathers around his funeral pyre, in which Shakyamuni is cremated in the Chinese manner within a coffin decorated with scrolling lotuses. In the top register, separated by a cloud band, we see a circle of musicians and the dispersal of the relics.

    Distinctive in the history of Tibetan painting, this thangka is painted in the fabled style of the Tenth Karmapa Choying Dorje (1604-1674). The composition takes a fresh approach to the subject matter, and the mourners are depicted with the Karmapa's idiomatic faces, inspired by Ancient Kashmiri sculpture, and a studied naiveté. Famous for being one of Tibet's greatest artists, all Choying Dorje's hagiographies claim he was a prolific painter by the age of eight. When he came of age, he led the Karmapa sect through a traumatic period under the hegemony of a Gelugpa-Mongol alliance. An unfortunate consequence of the Fifth Dalai Lama's unifying politics (r. 1642-1682), the Karma Kagyu tradition, one of the wealthiest in all of Tibet, was "stripped of its monasteries... its sangha slaughtered and scattered, and its traditions (religious and artistic) on the verge of total eclipse." (Debreczeny, The Black Hat Eccentric, New York, 2012, p. 256). In 1645, Choying Dorje fled a doomed encampment in Lhadok, surrounded by Mongol forces, eventually taking refuge in the Chinese town of Lijiang (Yunnan province), under the protection of Naxi King Mu Yi (r. 1624-1669). There he nurtured the Kagyu sect in exile and developed his enigmatic style.

    Debrecezny draws convincing parallels between the artistic responses of Choying Dorje and contemporaneous late Ming Chinese painters, such as Chen Hongshou (1598-1652), returning to visual modes inspired by antiquity and an imagined golden age (ibid.). Within the context of political upheaval and exile, it is tempting to view the Tenth Karmapa's radical style as a rejection of the status quo in Gelugpa-dominated Central Tibet. It was a climate of great codification, under which guild-like workshops reproduced a more prescriptive Gelugpa formula, emblematic of the hegemony his order suffered under. The Central Tibetan style is typified by dense gold-patterned textiles, layers of decorative embellishments, and closely juxtaposed bold colors. By contrast, Choying Dorje's style incorporates plainer (possibly Naxi) garments, empty monochrome backgrounds, and washes of similar hues – seen for instance here in the paintings sky.

    There are key elements that demonstrate this thangka is not by the hand of the master, but instead made in one of his workshops either during his life or shortly after his death. Firstly, there is not quite the same adroit care given to faces, hands, or animals that typifies Choying Dorje's work. Secondly, his paintings are known for their very close awareness of Chinese material culture, wherein a porcelain vase or huanghuali brush pot seem to be observed from originals. While there are allusions here in their shape, the various objects are instead colored monochromatically. As such the present example is closely related to a workshop production of the same subject, which forms part of a complete set held in Palpung Monastery (Fig. 1, also see ibid., p. 166, fig. 5.9).

    While these two thangkas are similar in composition and style, they are not copies of each other. They clearly derive from the same original composition, and yet each exhibits countless differences. Figures vary in age and accouterments. The couch on which Shakyamuni rests has an additional tier of lambs or deer at its base in our version. Their palettes also vary significantly. The present thangka's lighter tonal variations between cyan and lavender in the sky and purple in the rocks below, are replaced by more saturated blues and greens, giving the forms in the Palpung versions a harder edge. The faces within the present thangka are less generic and uniform, showing greater diversity in skin tones, facial types, and nuanced expressions - and their draftsmanship seems more highly skilled. These elements suggest that the present thangka is a slightly fresher, earlier, take on the original composition, compared to the Palpung version.

    But for all their changes, core elements of the composition remain: the two dogs, an ascetic near Shakyamuni's feet, musicians in top left corner, etc. Thus, while certainly deriving from some original design by the Tenth Karmapa, each shows great artistic license given to the artist(s).

    The appearance of this thangka provides the very first opportunity to examine two versions of the same subject produced by the Tenth Karmapa's workshop. It therefore, offers a host of potential insights into understanding the life and practices of the Karma Kagyu lineage under his provision. The aforementioned nuances between the two paintings demonstrate an enormous amount of artistic freedom – once again in stark contrast to the codified practices of the Gelugpa guilds. They suggest that, beyond the style and composition, even at the heart of the workshop's ethic is a resistance to Gelugpa hegemony and a preservation of the Karma Kagyu's identity – a speculation that can only be made now that this painting has come to light.

    Referenced
    HAR - himalayanart.org/items/61461

    Provenance
    Private UK Collection acquired in London, 2010
Activities
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