Skip to main content
Lot 518
21 March 2023, 18:00 EDT
New York

US$40,000 - US$60,000

Own a similar item?

Submit your item online for a free auction estimate.

How to sell

Looking for a similar item?

Our Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Art specialists can help you find a similar item at an auction or via a private sale.

Find your local specialist

Ask about this lot


Distemper on cloth; with Tibetan inscriptions in gold with red cartouches identifying each figure throughout the painting and a donor inscription in the bottom right corner.
Himalayan Art Resources item no. 74042
25 3/8 x 18 3/4 in. (64.5 x 47.6 cm)


西藏 十八世紀 大成就者形象之宗喀巴唐卡

In his seminal work, Tibetan Painted Scrolls, Giuseppe Tucci offers a thorough discussion of the iconography and liturgical background of this painting. He describes Tsongkhapa at center, identified by inscription, "in the likeness of a siddha," striding a ferocious lion and bearing a skullcup and club. He also identifies the surrounding canon of Eighty-Four Mahasiddhas according to the Vajrasana system, whose names are inscribed on red cartouches outlined in gold. (Technically, there are eighty-five painted here, with Saraha repeated thrice rather than the usual twice.) The painting is based on a series of five posthumous visions of Tsongkhapa experienced by one of his main disciples, Kedrub Geleg Pal Zangpo (1385-1438). The four other revelations are alluded to in the bottom center and along the top register, manifesting additional dream-like representations of Tsongkhapa. As a divine Tantrika, the painting locates the founder of the Gelug order of Tibetan Buddhism within the tradition of celebrated Indian and Tibetan tantric masters.

While images of Tsongkhapa proliferate in the 18th century, few, if any, exist in this format so prioritizing the inscribed labels that enumerate the canon of Eighty-Four Mahasiddhas. Further, while similar labelling appears on a set of thangkas depicting scenes from the Life of the Buddha (Bonhams, Hong Kong, 30 November 2022, lot 1041), none are so harmoniously integrated as within this composition.

Giuseppe Tucci, Tibetan Painted Scrolls, Vol. 2, Rome, 1949, pp. 399-402, pls. 73 & 74.

Giuseppe Tucci, acquired on expedition in Tibet, 1928-1939
The Alice & Nasli Heeramaneck Collection, acquired in New York, c. 1955
The Pan-Asian Collection (Christian Humann), acquired from the above, 1974
The Robert H. Ellsworth Collection, acquired from the above, c. 1981
A Distinguished Private European Collection, acquired from the above, 1993

On loan to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (L.76.24.168), 1976

A. Tsongkhapa as a yogi on a tiger
B. Tsongkhapa as a monk on a white elephant
C. Tsongkhapa blazing with light, floating on clouds
D. Tsongkapa as Manjushri on a snow lion
E. Tsongkhapa as a youth on a throne supported by gods and goddesses
F. Khedrup Je
G. Tshul Gom

1. Luipa
2. Aryadeva
3. Nagarjunagarbha
4. Asanga
5. Atisha
6. Kumara
7. Saraha (I)
8. Padmavajra
9. Khantali
10. Nilapa
11. Virupa
12. Dombi Heruka
13. Sararuhavajra
14. Busukara
15. Padmakara
16. Singharapa
17. Minarapa
18. Dasiripa
19. Krishnavajra
20. Buddhajnan
21. Kukuripa
22. Nalendrapa
23. Shantipa
24. Karupaka
25. Sutaloki
26. Sengepa (I)
27. Kotalipa
28. Naropa
29. Vajraghanta
30. Indrabhuti
31. Chandrabhadra
32. Anandagarbha
33. Chandrakirti
34. (smad dkris pa)
35. Shantipa
36. Chandragomi
37. Lawapa
38. Tantrala
39. Karnapa
40. Avadhuti
41. Pig Herder (pag tsangpa)
42. Krishnacharya (nagpo chopa)
43. Telopa
44. Shakya Shenyen
45. Chandali
46. Charyapa
47. Darikapa
48. Nagabhodi
49. Shawaripa
50. Bhadrapa
51. Ananta
52. The Singer (luyang khan)
53. (sgra mkhan zhabs)
54. Khontali
55. Chapari
56. Saraha (II)
57. Jetari
58. Dakipa
59. (mar me lha)
60. Siyali
61. Ravigupta
62. Vagishvara
63. Hilapa
64. Virayapa
65. Kamala
66. Jhalandhara
67. Tagapa
68. Sarakapa
69. Suvarnadvipa
70. Kalaka
71. Kubhucha
72. Natapa
73. Sengepa (II)
74. Bhinasa
75. Tampaka
76. Trin gyi shug
77. Bhagalana
78. Pakapala
79. Flute Player (lingbu khan)
80. Saraha (III)
81. Sarasuka
82. Kalalamge
83. Dharmakirti
84. Bhayani
85. Metogpa

Two Tibetan Thangkas from the Tucci Expeditions

"Giuseppe Tucci was one of those very rare scholars whose biographies cannot be reduced to their bibliographies. His learning was vast and profound, his linguistic and historiographical erudition reminds us of such giants as Paul Pelliot or Berthold Laufer, and his writings (some sixty volumes and more than two hundred articles) are of an amazing variety of contents and literary styles. But Giuseppe Tucci was also a prodigious traveler and an indefatigable explorer." — Mircea Eliade1

The following two paintings have an exceptional pedigree, having been collected by Giuseppe Tucci (1894–1984) during one of his seven research expeditions to the Indian Himalaya and Tibet before 1939. Broadly considered the pioneering master—or even founder–of Tibetan art history, Tucci formed the single most important collection of Tibetan thangkas in the West. The present paintings were published in his seminal 1949 work, Tibetan Painted Scrolls, a foundational text in Tibetan art history. They subsequently enjoyed a prestigious chain of custodians, passing through storied collections assembled by some of the greatest proponents of Indian and Himalayan art in the United States in the 20th century.

Perhaps the last of the great explorers, one finds no shortage of praise for Giuseppe Tucci throughout encyclopedias and other authoritative compendiums. His contributions to the studies of religious history and Tibetology are unsurpassed by any western scholar to this day. Serving for most of his career as Full Professor of Religion and Philosophy of India and the Far East at the University of Rome, Tucci complemented his teaching and writing with field research, on long expeditions averaging half a year. He was the first foreigner to attempt to visit and study all of Tibet's major religious monuments. Trekking thousands of miles across the Tibetan Cultural Zone, the research materials he gathered (paintings, manuscripts, etc.) and produced (photographs, commissioned texts, etc.) became "crucial points of departure for generations of scholars and students".2 Crowning his multilateral achievements, Tucci co-founded the Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo (IsMEO), for which he also presided between 1947-78.

It was during his time teaching Italian, Chinese, and Tibetan at the prestigious Indian universities of Shantiniketan and Calcutta, shortly after earning his degree, that Tucci organized his first field explorations, starting in 1926. Permission to bring back research materials to Italy, such as texts and art objects, was part of the official travel permits under which the Tucci expeditions were conducted. Between 1926 and 1939, Tucci lead seven expeditions to the Indian Himalaya and Tibet. We can surmise that the two paintings now being offered at auction were collected within this period because they are published in Tibetan Painted Scrolls, which had already gone into production by the start of his eighth and last expedition to Tibet in 1948. The Second World War forced a hiatus on his explorations, and during that time Tucci turned to the paintings he had thus far gathered to publish his panoramic survey of Tibetan painting. Tibetan Painted Scrolls was Tucci's only major art historical publication, being primarily a Tibetologist and historian of religions, but it is considered his magnum opus, marking the beginning of the modern period in the study of Tibetan art.3

"[Tibetan Painted Scrolls] became the most referenced documentation of Tibetan art, religious history, and literature in a western language...[and] is still an unrivalled resource in the field of Tibetology." — Michael Henss4

Tucci earmarked most of the paintings he either received as gifts, bought, or found over the course of his expeditions for a yet-to-be founded museum. 125 thangkas eventually entered Italy's Museo Nazionale d'Arte Orientale (MNAO) in 1962. Others he gave to a close friend, Corcos, as repayment for the latter's financial support of the Tucci expeditions. Corcos then organized a selling exhibition of 75 thangkas (including the present two) at a New York gallery in 1955, which would instigate the paintings' sequence of ownership within famous private collections of Asian art in the West.

The legendary Indian-born art dealer and collector Nasli Heeramaneck (1902-71) purchased most, if not all, the thangkas from the Tucci expeditions exhibited in New York. Following in his mentor Ananda Coomaraswamy's footsteps, Heeramaneck was a foremost ambassador of art from the Indian subcontinent in the United States in the mid-20th century. A small sampling of his collection displayed in 1966 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which included some Tucci paintings, formed the most comprehensive exhibition of Indian and Himalayan art assembled in America ever.5 More of it went on to form core holdings of many museums throughout North America, most notably more than 2,500 artworks now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

After Nasli Heeramaneck's death, the Tucci paintings were acquired by the Pan-Asian Collection in 1974, boosting its profile as arguably the most prestigious private collection of Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian art assembled in the 20th century. Its owner, Christian Humann (1929-81), worked closely with the prolific scholar and curator, Pratapaditya Pal, in whose advisory capacity the collector was introduced to Nasli's widow, Alice Heeramaneck. From their collaboration, many of the Tucci paintings were further published and exhibited, and the Tucci Collection was loaned to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which acquired nine of the best-known today. After Humann's untimely death in 1981, the renowned Asian art dealer and collector Robert Hatfield Ellsworth (1929-2014) purchased the Pan Asian Collection and its remaining Tucci paintings. Ellsworth reputedly sold the Tibetan paintings privately, including these two works, which were acquired by an eminent private European collection. With their unrivalled provenance, these paintings are among very few works from the Tucci expeditions to ever appear at auction.

1 Eliade, "Giuseppe Tucci (1895-1984)", History of Religions, vol. 24, no. 2, 1984, pp. 157.
2 Klimburg Salter (ed.), Discovering Tibet: The Tucci Expeditions and Paintings, 2015, p. 36.
3 Much of the content of this paragraph and overall entry is indebted to Deborah Klimburg Salter's work (ibid., pp. 25-59).
4 Henss, "Introduction to the SDI Edition of the Tibetan Painted Scrolls", in Tucci, Tibetan Painted Scrolls, 2nd ed., 1999, p. v.
5 Pal, "Nasli Heeramaneck: The Consummate Collector and Connoisseur", in Peyton & Anne Paul (eds.), Arts of South Asia: Cultures of Collecting, 2019, p. 151.

Additional information