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西藏 十二世紀晚期/十三世紀早期 佛陀唐卡
Wisdom Calendar of Tibetan Art, Schneelowe Verlagsberatung und Verlag, Haldenwang, May 1992.
Michael Henss, The Image of the Buddha, Stuttgart, forthcoming 2023/24
Christian Luczanits, "Beneficial to See: Early Drigung Painting", in David Jackson, Painting Traditions of the Drigung Kagyu School, New York, 2015, p. 252.
Steve Kossak & Jane Casey, Sacred Visions: Early Paintings from Central Tibet, New York, 1998, p. 197, fig. 27 (detail).
Benny Rustenberg, Amsterdam, 1992
Michael Henss Collection
The Henss Buddha Thangka is one of the most important early Tibetan paintings recorded. When it was commissioned in Central Tibet during the late 12th or early 13th century, it would have served as a critical link between the Northeast Indian Pala Buddhist tradition and the Tibetan interpretation thereafter.
As described in rich detail in Jane Casey's essay (published in this lot's dedicated digital and printed catalog and on our website), this painting is "a remarkably fine and well-preserved" example of the nascent thangka tradition in Tibet somewhat preceding the strict visual codification that emerging Tibetan monastic orders quickly adopted. Here, the artist's trusted expertise, almost certainly being a master of the Pala tradition, enabled him to freely express and insert his own creative elements, such as the notably long inward-curling lotus petals touching the Buddha's knees from the sides of the central throne base, and the exquisite scrollwork embellishing the tips of both layers of petals rather than a convention of only the inner layer. An immediate transfer from the Pala tradition takes the form of the multi-colored vertical bars structuring the overall composition that represent rocky caves and mountaintops in surviving Pala stone sculpture. For example, a stele of Avalokiteshvara seated on Mount Potala, attributed to the 11th century and presently on display in the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (HAR 16001), and another in the Indian Museum, Kolkata (Huntington Archive ID no. 6900).
Many of the Henss Buddha Thangka's stylistic elements correlate with mural paintings in important monuments established within the formative years of the Second Diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet (late 10th-12th centuries). For example, the tiered arrangement of flanking bodhisattvas, arhats, and pratyekabuddhas echoes the surrounding attendants of Vairocana in a painted mural at Drathang monastery, which can be dated to the end of the 11th century (fig. A). As with the present painting, the Drathang mural's bodhisattvas are also presented in three-quarter profile and seated in various cross-legged postures. Their faces and regalia are similarly derived from Pala art. The pair of standing bodhisattvas immediately flanking the Henss Buddha also correspond with surviving murals at Yemar monastery, dated to the 11th century (see Eberto Lo Bue, Tibet: Templi Scomparsi, Torino, 1998, fig. 87). Close comparison can also be made to an important thangka of Amitayus, now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (fig. B; M.84.32.5), that shares two standing bodhisattvas with long, golden tassels suspended from their belts and is dated according to inscription to circa 1170-89. LACMA also holds an early thangka depicting Ratnasambhava, attributed to a Kadampa monastery in Central Tibet, circa 1150-1225, which is seated before a large red cushion with open green scrollwork (fig. C; M.81.90.5).
Lokesh Chandra, the preeminent scholar of his time on Buddhist iconography, identified this thangka's subject as an aspect of Akshobhya Buddha, writing in the 1992 Wisdom Calendar:
"Akshobhya in this painting pertains to the yoga-tantra entitled Tattva-samgraha [an 8th-century "Compendium of Principles" by the renowned Indian scholar and philosopher Shantaraksita], which is represented graphically in 24 Vajradhatu-mandalas. The first of these 24 mandalas of the Vajradhatu system represents Akshobhya in the east as a nirmanakaya, that is in monastic robes. His body is of the yellow colour of gold, his right hands hangs down to touch the earth in the bhumisparsha mudra, while the left lies open in meditation in his lap...By touching the earth he stabilises the motion of the mind of bodhi. Earlier a similar painting at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has been wrongly identified as Ratnasambhava, due to the two lions on the pedestal of the throne. The mount of Akshobhya in the Vajradhatu-Mahabhuta-mandala is the horse, but the two lions in this painting pertain to the lion-throne/simhasana in general and do not have the specific connotation of being the characteristic mount/vahana of the Tathagata Akshobhya."
Among the early Tibetan paintings that have ever appeared at auction, few match the quality and excellent condition of the Henss Buddha Thangka. Related examples such as the Zimmerman thangka of Shakyamuni Buddha, attributed to the 12th century, and the Neumann thangka illustrating Buddha with scenes from the Jataka series (sold at Christie's, New York, 15 September 2008, lot 5; and 19 March 2013, lot 321, respectively), as well as the Lipton portrait thangka of the third abbot of Taklung monastery, Sangye Yarjon, sold recently at Bonhams, Paris, 4 October 2022, lot 101, serve to demonstrate the market appreciation for early paintings of a similar quality and scale.
THE GREAT AWAKENING
By Jane Casey, February 2023
A remarkably fine and well-preserved example among 13th-century scroll paintings from Central Tibet, this thangka displays a venerable tableau of celestial beings gathered in attendance of its large central Buddha image. This image, depicting the right hand poised in the earth-touching gesture (bhumisparsa mudra), derives from the account of the historical Shakyamuni Buddha's great awakening. Although no single authenticated account of the Buddha's life survives, several Sanskrit texts are acknowledged as generally authoritative, among them the Lalitavistara, the Buddhacharita, and the Mahavastu. These literary accounts inspired works of art in which Shakyamuni's life was codified into a series of great events.1 Among the most popularly represented was an episode just prior to Shakyamuni's enlightenment, referred to as the Maravijaya, "Victory over Mara".
Having vowed to remain in meditation until he recognized his true nature, the Buddha-to-be was visited by Mara, a demon associated with the veils and distractions of mundane existence. The Buddha remained unmoved by all the distractions, both pleasant and unpleasant, with which Mara sought to deflect him from his goal. According to some accounts, Mara's final assault consisted of an attempt to undermine the bodhisattva's sense of worthiness. By what entitlement did he seek the lofty goal of spiritual enlightenment and freedom from rebirth? Aided by spirits who reminded him of the countless compassionate efforts he had made on behalf of sentient beings throughout his many animal and human incarnations, Shakyamuni recognized that it was his destiny to be poised on the threshold of enlightenment. In response to Mara's query, he moved his right hand from his lap to touch the ground, calling the Earth herself to bear witness to his worthiness. This act of unwavering resolve caused Mara and his army of demons and temptresses to disperse, and Shakyamuni then experienced his great awakening.
The Maravijaya is often represented in other works of art as taking place at Bodhgaya in Northeastern India where the historical Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. The double vajra below his throne references this very site, often referred to as the "diamond seat" (vajrasana) and the only place that could have supported the Buddha's awakening.2 However, as Buddhist schools debated the nature of 'Buddha-hood' and developed an increasingly complex worldview that included parallel universes and Pureland realms presided over by Shakyamuni and other Buddhas, iconic depictions of the historical Buddha were conflated with these supramundane Buddhas, alluding to their mirroring awakened natures. Consequently, the scene in this painting, transpires in a transcendent realm where the Maravijaya (or Vajrasana) Buddha is in the company of Buddhas and other highly evolved spiritual beings.
In the top register are eight teaching Buddhas who face the viewer. In a descending hierarchy, the next register presents eight Solitary Buddhas (Pratyekabuddha), those who achieved enlightenment without the assistance of a teacher in their final lifetime, and who do not teach others because they have not sufficiently cultivated the quality of compassion.3 Next are the eight Listeners (shravakas). Shravakas originally referred to contemporary followers of the Buddha who listened to his teachings; it later referred to those who follow his teachings.4 The Pratyekabuddhas and the Shravakas represented archetypes for practice in early Buddhism. They were sometimes pejoratively dismissed by later schools that championed the path of the bodhisattva, spiritual beings who dedicate their lives to assisting others achieve enlightenment while postponing their own complete liberation until all sentient beings achieve the same goal. Crowned and bejeweled bodhisattvas appear in the next four registers, making a total of sixteen, including the two standing bodhisattvas who flank the central figure. On the left in the bottom row of bodhisattvas is a seated female deity wearing a short top (Tara, the goddess of compassion).5 Below the Buddha's lion throne are historical figures, including the eastern Indian spiritual adept Saraha (c. 8th-9th century) holding an arrow;6 an Indian monk seated in meditation, the horse-headed deity Hayagriva, and two more Indian monks who turn towards each other and appear to be engaged in debate. On the other side of the throne base are two Tibetan monks (identified by the short-sleeved vest under their upper robes), each holding a lighted candle, their hands in an expression of reverence (anjali mudra) as they turn towards the central figure; and an ascetic, seated just behind them. In the bottom register are seven Medicine Buddhas (holding medicinal bowls in their laps and in their right hands, the myrobalan fruit).7 Two serpent deities (nagaraja) support the lotus which provides a seat for Shakyamuni. Six heavenly beings (apsara), carrying scarves and garlands, descend on clouds as they approach the painting's central figure.
Three published paintings are similar in composition.8 All show a central Buddha in the company of the same spiritual hierarchy noted here. Dr. Christian Luczanits, following Dr. Kimiaki Tanaka, suggests a textual source for this composition is to be found in the Manjushrimulakalpa, a Sanskrit medieval treatise the first chapter of which describes a "superior cloth painting (pata)" with composition much like that depicted in this painting.9 While the artist may have drawn some inspiration from the Manjushrimulakalpa, the central figure it describes is a teaching Buddha, not the earth-touching Maravijaya Buddha shown here. Dr. Lokesh Chandra, writing about this painting in 1992, argues it was informed by the Tattva-samgraha, the first chapter of which describes an earth-touching Buddha, "Akshobhya ...as a nirmana-kaya, that is in monastic robes. His body is of the yellow colour of gold, his right hands hangs down to touch the earth in the bhumisparsha mudra, while the left lies open in meditation in his lap."10
The painting retains an extraordinary integrity despite its considerable age. That it does so is a testament to the skill of the artist and the skillful application of techniques employed in preparing the painting's cloth support, the binder used as its ground, and its pigments. The dominant colors are the deep gold, seen in the radiant complexion of Shakyamuni and in the bodies of many celestial beings, and the pale coral-red of their robes. A complimentary pale blue is used for the throne cushions, lotus petals, attendant rampant lions (vyala), and on occasion, for skin tones of the bodhisattvas. A fascinating aspect of the painting can be seen in a few areas where pigment is lost and the underdrawing exposed.11 As Robert Bruce-Gardner has shown, areas of lost pigment sometime reveal letters or numbers used to remind the painter of all the areas to be filled in with corresponding colors. Such color notation was "a pragmatic guide to the most efficient expenditure of [the master's] paint while it was at its prime."12 A detail of the Shravakas shows two instances where pigment loss reveals the Tibetan letter "ka", denoting the color the artist intended for their halos (fig. 1). Black is effectively used throughout the painting to suggest depth, creating the illusion of a shadow behind the figures, seen for example in the seated Buddhas and bodhisattvas surrounding the central figure.13
The painting's verso bears a lengthy inscription spaced within the outline of a Buddhist reliquary (stupa), corresponding to the figure of Shakyamuni on the obverse. The inscription observes patterns seen in 13th-century Tibetan paintings, and includes consecration mantras, the verse of dependent origination,14 and four verses from the Pratimokshasutra, which were believed to sanctify the painting and make it a worthy recipient (rten) of the divine presence. Indeed, the purpose of consecration was to invite the divine presence to inhabit the painting, and to ensure that it abides there. As Dr. Andrew Quintman has observed, "For the devotee, to stand before a consecrated image of the Buddha is...to stand before the Buddha himself."15 Some of the inscribed verses offer advice about the proper conduct of a monk. "Like a bee flies away from a flower having sucked the nectar without damaging the flower's colour and scent, so a sage should walk about in a village."16 Other passages reflect the commissioner's aspiration that the painting be beneficial. "By this merit [i.e., the commissioning of this painting] may living beings be guided to the island of liberation from the abode of the great terrifying sea monster, from the stormy waves of the ocean of existence."17 The author (not necessarily the scribe) identifies himself as "I, Tsugyel" (bdag tshu rgyal), an otherwise unknown person who presumably commissioned this painting and expresses his desire to remain connected with his teacher, and to meet the Dharma Lord (chos rje) in the pure eastern Buddhafield (shar phyogs rdul bral zhing khams).18 Near the end of the inscription, a final prayer: "By the truth of the Buddha, the truth of the Dharma, by the truth of the Samgha, the truth of the Three Jewels, by the truth of the lamas, tutelary deities, and dakinis, may the prayers I have made be accomplished."19
The radiant presence of Shakyamuni at the center of this venerable tableau represents an iconic moment in the Buddhist tradition. As articulated in the verso inscription, the painting embodies the highest aspiration for Tibetan Buddhists, that all attain freedom from suffering, as taught by the Buddha.
1 These are a generally classed as four, eight, or twelve great events, although some narratives include additional scenes as well.
2 Tibetan pilgrim Dharamsvamin left an account of his journey to Bodhgaya in 1234, in which he states that he saw a double vajra at the reputed seat of enlightenment. George Roerich, Biography of Dharmasvamin (Patna, 1959), p. 66. See Janice Leoshko, ed. Bodhgaya: The Site of Enlightenment (Bombay, 1988), pp. 29-44. Leoshko notes that Indian legends often refer to Bodhgaya as the vajrasana, the diamond seat, the only place where all Buddhas—past, present and future—attain enlightenment.
3 Robert E. Bushwell Jr and Donald S. Lopez Jr, The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), p. 673. The Pratyekabuddhas can be identified here by their cranial protuberance (ushnisha) which indicate their enlightened status.
4 The Vimalakirti Sutra, by Kumarajiva, trans. Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), p. 159; Buswell and Lopez, The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, p. 850.
5 On the right side adjacent to the lower row of bodhisattvas is the blue-complexioned Yamantaka (Conqueror of Death), draped in a tiger skin skirt, and holding a bow, arrow and noose.
6 See a brief biography of Saraha in Keith Dowman, Masters of Mahamudra (Albany NY: SUNY Press, 1985), pp. 66-72.
7 Claudine Bautze-Picron notes that Alfred Foucher observed the close association between the Buddha at Bodhgaya and the Medicine Buddha Bhaiṣajyaguru, as seen in a Nepalese manuscript illumination at Cambridge University, identified by its caption as "'Arogyahsali Bhousajya Bhattaraka vajrasanah,' referring to the miraculous cures which the image at Bodhgaya is said to have been able to accomplish." Claudine Bautze-Picron, "Shakyamuni in Eastern India," Silk Road Art and Archaeology, Kamakura: The Institute of Silk Road Studies, vol. 4 (1995/96), 355-408, p. 362.
8 David Jackson, Painting Traditions of the Drigung Kagyu School (New York: Rubin Museum of Art, 2015), figs. 11.37, 11.38, 11.39.
9 Luczanits in Jackson, Drigung Kagyu School, p. 252, note. 915.
10 Wisdom Calendar of Tibetan Art, Schneelowe Verlagsberatung und Verlag, Haldenwang, May 1992.
11 See Robert Bru'ce-Gardner, "Realizations: Reflections on Technique in Early Central Tibetan Painting" in Steven Kossak and Jane Casey Singer, Sacred Visions (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998), pp. 193-205, fig. 27.
12 Bruce-Gardner, "Realizations," p. 198.
13 This technique is found in Tibetan paintings over many centuries, e.g., the 10th century murals of Tabo and Tholing and into the 15th century murals of Gyantse. Bruce-Gardner notes the black in Tibetan paintings was typically carbon, "most likely the sooty product of burning wood or some other combustible material." Bruce-Gardner, "Realizations," p. 197.
14 Also known as the ye dharma verse, from the Pratityasamutpadahṛdaya. A complete transliteration and translation of the verso inscription has been prepared by Dr. Jorg Heimbel.
15 Andrew Quintman, "Life Writing as Literary Relic: Image, Inscription and Consecration in Tibetan Biography." Material Religion vol. 9, issue 4 (2013): 468-505, p. 474.
16 Translation by Dr. Jorg Heimbel. Dr. Heimbel notes that "the commentaries of the Pratimoksasutra explain that the occasion for a sage to enter a village is alms begging. The flower's colour and scent are compared to the sage's mind (sems) and conduct (tshul khrims) and the alms to the nectar."
17 Translation by Dr. Jorg Heimbel.
18 The prayer to remain connected with one's teacher is commonly found in c. 13th century paintings, including those connected with Taklung monastery. See Casey Singer, "Taklung Painting" in Jane Casey Singer and Philip Denwood, eds., Tibetan Art: Towards a Definition of Style (London: Laurence King in association with Alan Marcuson, 1997), p. 58; David Jackson, Mirror of the Buddha (New York: Rubin Museum of Art, 1999), pp. 121, 201-02. Buddhist Purelands, a destination for Buddhists in the afterlife, were conceived as beautiful, rarified environments where aspirants could continue their progress to enlightenment.
19 Translation by Dr. Jorg Heimbel.
Transliteration of the Inscribed Verso
by Dr. Christian Luczanits and Dr. Jorg Heimbel
Stūpa in yellow outlines almost completely inscribed. Mantras at the top and on four parts of the stūpa including the dome. The parts are marked by lines in the transliteration below.
US IMPORT TARIFF Please note that this lot marked "T" subject to an import tariff of 7.5%. The buyer will be required to pay the import tariff, which is included in the purchase price, along with sales tax, if applicable. The amount of the import tariff due is a percentage of the value declared upon entry into the United States (it is not based on the final bid price). The buyer should contact Bonhams prior to the sale to determine the amount of the import tariff.