A THANGKA DEPICTING AN EARLY BUDDHIST MASTER TIBET, CIRCA 1200 OR 13TH CENTURY |
- Distemper on cloth
- 36 1/2 by 28 1/2 in. (93 by 72 cm)
Pratapaditya Pal, Himalayas: An Aesthetic Adventure, Chicago, 2003, cat. no. 120
David Jackson, Mirror of the Buddha: Early Portraits from Tibet, New York, 2011, p. 39, fig. 2.3
This well published painting has accumulated commentary from a number of scholars. David Jackson has suggested the thangka dates to ca 1200 and speculates that the Indian master Atisha (982-1054) and his closest Tibetan disciple Dromtön (1005-1064) appear within the lineage, and that the hierarch was thus a master of the Kadam school, see David P. Jackson, Mirror of the Buddha: Early Portraits from Tibet, New York, 2011, p. 38. Dr. Pal also speculates that the thangka was painted ca 1200 for a Kadampa patron at the Kadam monastery of Narthang, founded in 1153, see Pratapaditya Pal, Himalayas: An Aesthetic Adventure, Chicago, 2003, p. 184. Amy Heller in Tibetan Art, Milan, 1999, p. 85, notes a similarity with a large thirteenth century inscribed portrait of Zhang ston Chos kyi bLama who was the Fifth Abbot of Narthang from 1234 to 1244, see Jane Casey Singer, “Painting in Central Tibet, ca. 950-1400”, in Artibus Asiae, Zurich, 1994, vol. 54 1/2, pp. 87-136, fig. 24. Compare a Kadam master with hands in dharmachakra mudra and gazing to his right in the Michael J. and Beata McCormick Collection, see Jackson, op. cit. p. 74, Fig. 3.5. Jackson suggests that a lama holding a staff in the McCormick painting — seated in the second register down to the left, next to Shakyamuni Buddha — might be identified as Dromtön’s disciple Potowa (1027-1105), who is said in some sources to have walked with a staff. Potowa’s presence would indicate the painting portrays a Kadam lineage transmitted by Dromtön, ibid p. 75. A lama in the present painting — seated directly above the makara to the right of the master’s halo — holds a staff in much the same manner and may also represent Potowa, supporting evidence for a Kadam attribution. The triratna on a lotus held in the master’s hands is an unusual attribute, and not seen as a personal attribute elsewhere in early lineage paintings. Although the symbol commonly refers to the Buddhist trinity of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, it may in this instance be relevant to his school and that of the lineage depicted throughout the painting. Earlier, Amy Heller had tentatively identified the master as Drigung Kyoppa Jigten Gönpo, noting similar iconography in the portrayal of the lama and emphasis on the ratna symbol in other Drigungpa paintings, see “A Thang ka Portrait of ’Bri gung rin chen dpal, ’Jig rten gsum mgon (1143-1217)” in Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies 1 (October 2005). The symbol is seen in the textile design of the robe and throne cloth of Drigung Kyoppa Jigten Gönpo in a thirteenth century painting, ibid, and Jackson, op. cit, p. 155, fig. 5.21, and features throughout a portrait of the Drigung hierarch in the Pritzker Collection, forming the structure of the throne, as well as the textile design of the throne cloth, ibid, fig. 5.25. No inscriptional evidence, however, categorically confirms the identity of the master in the present painting, or his affiliation to a particular order. His revered status, nevertheless, is without question. Bodhisattvas standing in adoration at either side confer a state of Buddhahood upon the master. The lama’s seat is empowered and protected with mythical animals in niches below and makara in the torana above, replicating the thrones of the celestial pantheon. This richly symbolic iconographic setting illustrates the reverence in which the master was held.