Likely copied from or based on a painted Tibetan thangka, this piece reflects the development of the uniquely Tibeto-Chinese style that arose out of the synergy between the Qing court and Tibetan Buddhism. From the Yuan dynasty on, following the Chinese tradition of creating embroidered and kesi versions of scroll paintings, painted Tibetan Buddhist images were similarly replicated in luxurious textiles as gifts. The extraordinary value and the beauty of these lustrous, vibrant textiles made these 'copies' much more valuable than the painted 'originals.'
Kangxi period examples are rare in comparison with Qianlong examples, considering the number of related works dating to the Qianlong period. However, the simpler decorative elements, restrained landscape, and stark midnight-blue ground of the present thangka suggest the earlier date. The blue ground appears to be a vestige of Ming dynasty Buddhist embroidered images; see a 15th century example depicting Shākya Yeshé, seated on a throne against a dark blue ground, preserved in the Tibet Museum, Lhasa, and illustrated in Faith and Empire: Art and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism, Rubin Museum of Art, New York, 2019, fig. 6.5, and a Ming dynasty votive panel in The Cleveland Museum of Art, acc. no. 1991.2. See also an embroidery of Ekadashamukha Avalokiteshvara on a blue ground in the Rubin Museum of Art, New York, acc. no. P1995.6.1. A blue-ground Tibetan silk embroidered thangka attributed to the 17th/18th century sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 1st June 2015, lot 623.
For an embroidered thangka with a similar dark blue ground and simplified landscape outlined in gold threads, attributed to the 17th century, see an example sold at Christie's London, 6th June 2000, lot 177. A silk embroidered thangka of Shakyamuni in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, acc. no. 51.129, is also rendered in a palette of blues, peach tones, and gold. In it, the deity is framed with a lush lotus scroll, but is embroidered slightly more ornately, thus the early 18th century attribution.
The format of the present thangka is very similar to a group of more elaborately embroidered Qianlong period thangkas depicting eleven-faced, thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara surrounded by Buddhas above and Tsongkhapa and a Gelug lama below. See one in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, acc. no. 30.75.34a, b, two in the Palace Museum, Beijing, nos 228944 and 231957, another in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, acc. no. 1479-1902, and one sold at Christie's New York, 20th March 2014, lot 1631. For other 17th/18th century thangkas of Ekadashamukha Avalokiteshvara, see a 17th century Chinese painted thangka fragment in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, acc. no. 16.386, with the bodhisattva amidst a blue-green landscape framed by lotuses. See also an amber-ground Tibetan embroidered tapestry surrounded by a border of devotees and attributed to the early 18th century, sold at Christie's New York, 23rd March 1999, lot 163.
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