The colour and contour of the landscape is ultimately derived from the classical blue-green style of the Tang period (618-907), which was revived by early Yuan period (1279-1368) artists and then embraced by the Yongle court. Homage is paid to the Yongle interpretation of the tradition in this exquisite fifteenth or early sixteenth century example, and the legacy continues through to the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). The Cudapanthaka from a set of arhat paintings dated to the 54th year of Qianlong's reign (equivalent to 1789) is almost identical in composition to the present painting but lacks subtlety in the interpretation of the Yongle style and palette, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Tangka-Buddhist Painting of Tibet, Hong Kong, 1995, p. 196, cat. no. 181. And it includes further innovation in its composition with the inclusion top right of Atisha. The Indian teacher is no doubt included to signify the renaissance of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist teachings in China under the guidance of Rolpai Dorje, the spiritual mentor of the Qianlong emperor. The extraordinarily close similarities in composition and detail, even the same measurements of the canvas of the present fifteenth or early sixteenth century Cudapanthaka and the Qianlong work, suggests that they may both have been copied from the same model, most probably an important Yongle painting that was well known to the artists’ studios and patrons. According to ancient Chinese principles the copying of important earlier works is meritorious. The Qianlong emperor’s commission to copy early Ming works emphasizes the high regard in which the original paintings must have been held, and highlights the prestige of the present fifteenth or early sixteenth century homage to the Yongle period masterpieces.
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