Himalayan Art Resources item no. 13447
Yama Dharmaraja, protector of the Vajrabhairava cycle of Tantras, strides in fierce alidhasana within a fiery halo, surrounded by a terrifying retinue in the upper and lower registers. The lotus platform upon which Yama Dharmaraja stands rests upon a triangular agni-kunda or brazier filled with roiling blood. The agni-kunda is associated with Vajrabhairava, and represents the “clear light” or essence of all phenomena, wherein all objects put into the sacred fire burn with the same flame and are reduced to the same remains. Yama Dharmaraja arises from this clear light.
Directly above the central deity is Vajrabhairava, the wrathful manifestation of the bodhisattva Manjushri. who assumes a variety of terrifying forms to subdue Yama, the personification of death and a spiritual metaphor for perpetuating samsara, or cyclical existence. Four further aspects of Yama Dharmaraja surround the central deity in the upper and lower registers, the colors of which correspond to four of the five Buddha Families: the red avatar of Magnetising Activity and the blue-black avatar of Wrathful Activity presiding in the upper register; and the yellow avatar of Increasing Activity and the white avatar of Peaceful Activity presiding in the lower register.
The open sky behind the central deities and the expanse of rolling clouds above the moody landscape in the lower register are both indicative of the syncretic Tibeto-Chinese style which developed throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Another large-scale thangka depicting Green Mahakala from the Qing Court Collection demonstrates a similar composition to the present lot; see The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Tangka-Buddhist Painting of Tibet, Hong Kong, 1995, vol. 59, p. 171, cat. no. 158. Both works exhibit the primary hallmarks of the elegant and embellished Qing Court style—the fabulous landscape elements with lush green mountains, rocky escarpments, meandering streams, leafy trees and flowering gardens; all unfolding under the vivid cobalt sky above, filled with rolling clouds in delicate shades of rose, lavender and cerulean. In both paintings, the central deities dominate the composition from within their fiery mandorlas, emanating a fierce crimson halo heightened with golden curvilinear arcs which extend into the flames. The whorling golden tongues of flame mirror the whorling clouds and golden tips of the lotus petals; whilst six deities fill the heavenly upper and earthly lower registers of the paintings.
Compare the characteristic treatment of the flames and clouds of the present lot to another Qing masterwork of monumental proportion, a finely embroidered thangka depicting Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi sold in our New York rooms, 16th September 2015, lot 405 (fig. 1). Exquisite detailing in both works extend to the richly patterned shawls which encircle the heads of the central deities and flutter behind their legs, echoing the motifs of sumptuously embroidered Imperial silks. This graceful patterning is further expressed in both works on the sun disk platforms upon which the central deities stand.
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