Lot 936
  • 936

A THANGKA DEPICTING A HEVAJRA MANDALA | Tibet, Second half of the 14th Century, Circa 1370-1380

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
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  • 33 by 29 1/2 inches
in the form of a circular multi-colored lotus bearing a vimana palace and five forms of Hevajra depicted within inner chambers, with the blue eight-headed, sixteen-armed, four-legged Akshobya-Hevajra at the center embracing his consort Vajra Nairatmya and dancing on prostrate mara, red Amitabha-Hevajra with his consort Pandara Vasini in the chamber above, yellow Ratnasambhava-Hevajra with Buddha Lochani to the left, green Amoghasiddhi-Hevajra with Samaya Tara to the right and white Vairocana-Hevajra with Vajradhatvishvari below, each manifestation accompanied by eight dancing goddesses including Vetali, Dombini, Ghashmari, Pukkashi, Gauri, Shavari, Chauri, and Chandali, a further eight dancing goddesses and eight kalasha surrounding the chambers on the segmented yellow, red, green and white scrolling vine ground, with four gates at the cardinal points protected by vajra issuing from the mouths of makara, all enclosed by a ring of multi-colored flames and the eight charnel grounds, with Sakya hierarchs and dancing goddesses surrounding the mandala within scrolling vine on a flower-strewn blue ground, a Sakya lineage in the upper register, and dancing goddesses, protector deities and gods of wealth in the lower register, with the officiating monk to the right seated next to a table bearing ritual offerings, with the title ‘Mandala of the Five Dakas’ and numbered 26 in an inscription beneath the offering table, a painted floral border to the left and right, both edged with green silk, the upper and lower textile mounts now removed Himalayan Art Resources item no. 13601.


Acquired 1975.


In excellent overall condition. With a stitched seam running up the left third of the painting, original and visible from the verso. Stain visible on the upper central figure, darkening the robes slightly. Slight discoloring and staining to the green lotus petal of the lotus ring at the southwest corner of the mandala palace. At upper left and bottom right, remains of sealing wax seals, now removed and not original on the verso of the painting. No noticeable accretion. Pigments still vibrant. Slight water damage in cremation ground at the southeast above dancing green goddess. Loss to green pigment in scrolling pattern of palace floor. Two creases at bottom center through the lower register. Vertical crease at upper quadrant. Other minor creasing throughout. No restoration.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The mandala is one of a set illustrating the Vajravali (Adamantine Garland) text. The Vajravali treatise was compiled during the reign of King Ramapala (c. 1072 - c. 1126) by Abhayakaragupta (d. 1125) of Vikramashila monastery in Eastern India, in which the Indian pandit describes the mandalas of esoteric deities in specific iconographic detail. This painting is identified by inscription as depicting the Mandala of the Five Dakas — the five manifestations of the meditational deity Hevajra — and is numbered twenty-sixth in a series of which at least eighteen other paintings are known. All the known mandalas in the series depict Lama Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen (1312-75) at the centre of the upper registers. The lama wears monastic garments and a vajra master’s crown, with his hands crossed at the chest in prajnalinganabhinaya holding the vajra and ghanta. His central presence on each painting in the series suggests that the cycle of mandalas is dedicated to Lama Dampa, often identified in inscriptions as His Holiness the Dharma Lord. Lama Dampa was a student and patron of the celebrated Tibetan scholar Buton (1290-1364) who transmitted Vajravali teachings to the Sakya community in the fourteenth century. Paintings from this series were first published, and recognized as masterpieces of early Tibetan art, by Robert Burawoy in his seminal exhibition catalogue Peintures du monastère de Nor, Paris, 1978, which featured four of the mandalas. Paintings from the set are now preserved in private and museum collections worldwide, including the Guhyasamaja mandala in the Margot and Tom Pritzker Collection, see Pratapaditya Pal, Tibet: Tradition and Change, Albuquerque, 1997, p. 146, pl. 73; the Jnanadakini mandala in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, see Steven M. Kossak and Jane Casey Singer, Sacred Visions, New York, 1999, p. 163, cat. 46; the Nairatmya mandala in The Cleveland Museum of Art, acc. no. 1993.4; and the Vajradhatu mandala in a private collection, see Jane Casey, Naman Ahuja, David Weldon, Divine Presence, Barcelona, 2003, p. 148, cat. no. 48. For others in the series and further discussion on the historical importance of the paintings see Pratapaditya Pal, Tibetan Paintings, Basel, 1984, pls. 29-31; Amy Heller “The Vajravali Mandala of Shalu and Sakya: The Legacy of Buton (1290-1364)” in Orientations, Hong Kong, May 2003, pp. 69-73; and Jeff Watt, himalayanart.org, set no. 2083, where Watt suggests the paintings may have been dedicated to Lama Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen by his devoted student Chen-nga Chenpo (1310-1370). The series may thus have been commissioned around the time of Chen-nga Chenpo’s demise in 1370, or possibly around 1380 as a memorial to Lama Dampa. For further study of this Hevajra mandala see Jeff Watt, himalayanart.org, no. 13601.

The series represents perhaps the finest of all mandala painting from Tibet in the fourteenth century. Each mandala is designed and painted with the same exquisite attention to detail and vibrant palette. While the overall format and dimension of the paintings remain the same throughout the series, the shape and size of the inner palace expands or contracts depending on the iconographic complexity of each focal deity and the extent of their retinue. The artist of the Hevajra mandala had to extend the corners of the palace walls to the outer limit of the ring of lotus petals to accommodate the five individual chambers within the palace grounds, which in turn compresses the arches of the vishvavajra gates, cf. the more voluminous vajra arches and compact palace grounds of the Jnanadakini mandala in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, see Kossak and Casey Singer, op. cit., p. 163, cat. 46. The gates of the Hevajra mandala are given added mass with double vajra prongs emerging from twin makara heads on each side of the gates: the majority of the mandalas in the series have only one makara head and vajra prong at each side, with a further exception of the Chakrasamvara in a private collection, see Jeff Watt, himalayanart.org, no. 77204, that also has twin vajra prongs and makara heads. The resulting composition fills the inner ground of the mandala palace leaving little empty space in one of the most dynamic and aesthetically pleasing of all the paintings in the set. The format of a ring of multi-coloured lotus petals and flames, the circle of charnel grounds and the surrounding scrolling vine supporting deities and monks against a flower-strewn blue background is consistent throughout the series, as is the painted floral border to either side: albeit in some of the mandalas, such as the Metropolitan Museum’s Jnanadakini, the scenes in the charnel ground are painted against a black ground, and others, like the Hevajra, have a light blue setting. The linear format of the upper and lower registers, depicting deities and religious figures on lotus pedestals beneath lobed arches, remains the same throughout the series: the presiding monk and altar table however can be placed at either end of the lower register.

Although the Hevajra is a Tibetan Sakya order work, the painting style is Nepalese and it is most likely to have been done by a Newar artist. Nepalese artists were working for Sakya patrons since at least the thirteenth century, when Aniko (1245-1306) travelled from Nepal to fulfil a commission for the Sakya hierarch Phags-pa (1235-1280). In the fifteenth century, as David Jackson reveals, Kunga Zangpo (1382-1456), who founded the Sakya order Ngor monastery in 1429, commissioned itinerant Newar artists to paint a series of Vajravali mandalas, see David Jackson, A History of Tibetan Painting, Wien, 1996, p. 78. Compare the style and movement of the Hevajra mandala’s dancing goddesses and figures in the charnel grounds with the vignettes of the thirteenth century Sakya order Virupa in the Kronos Collection painted in the Nepalese style, see Kossak and Casey Singer, op. cit, p. 136, cat. 35; and the stylistic provenance in a contemporaneous Vasudhara mandala, formerly in the Stuart Cary Welch Collection, painted by the Newar artist Jasaraja Jirili in 1365 for Nepalese patrons in the Kathmandu Valley, see Sotheby’s London 31 May 2011, lot 84; compare also figures within scrolling vine on a flower-strewn background of the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century Nepalese Chandra mandala formerly in the Jucker Collection, see Sotheby’s New York, March 28, 2006, lot 3; and compare the format and style preserved in fifteenth century Ngor monastery Vajravali mandalas documented as the work of Newar artists, see Kossak and Casey Singer, op. cit, p. 165-71, cat. 47.