Four Mandala Vajravali Thangka

The central field with four mandalas, three with red, blue and yellow forms of Naro-dakini, the fourth with a blue unidentified deity, all surrounded by various emanations and other deities, placed within the squares, each of the four entrances flanked by a pair of makaras, the outer circle consisting of five-coloured lotus petals and a ring of fire, the centre with two debating monks, surrounded by four smaller ones, along the borders are depicted the eight cremation grounds, each with a mahasiddha surrounded by various scenes, the upper border depicts sixteen various gods, with a pair of dakinis at the outsides, the others in embrace with their female partner, the lower register with sixteen various coloured dakinis, all against a green scrolling background, the reverse with many mantras and short inscription with dedication to Naro-dakini and probably with the original light-green brocade mountings. (Also see Comment #1 by Vidya Dehejia.)

Maker(s)
Patron: Shakya Order Monks
Historical period(s)
ca. 1430
Medium
Opaque watercolor on cloth
Dimensions
H x W: 87.7 x 78 cm (34 1/2 x 30 11/16 in)
Geography
Tibet, Ngor Monastery
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Collection
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
F1997.22
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Painting
Type

Thangka

Keywords
Buddhism, dog, lotus, mahasiddha, makara, mandala, monk, Naropa, skull, Tibet, Vajravali, vulture, WWII-era provenance
Provenance

1963
William H. Wolff, 1963 [1]

Makler Family Collection [2]

From 1997
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased at auction, Christie's, Amsterdam, November 19, 1997, lot no. 8 [3]

Notes:

[1] According to Curatorial Note 2 in the object record.

[2] See note 1.

[3] See note 1.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Christie's (Amsterdam)
William H. Wolff, Inc. 1906-1991

Description

The central field with four mandalas, three with red, blue and yellow forms of Naro-dakini, the fourth with a blue unidentified deity, all surrounded by various emanations and other deities, placed within the squares, each of the four entrances flanked by a pair of makaras, the outer circle consisting of five-coloured lotus petals and a ring of fire, the centre with two debating monks, surrounded by four smaller ones, along the borders are depicted the eight cremation grounds, each with a mahasiddha surrounded by various scenes, the upper border depicts sixteen various gods, with a pair of dakinis at the outsides, the others in embrace with their female partner, the lower register with sixteen various coloured dakinis, all against a green scrolling background, the reverse with many mantras and short inscription with dedication to Naro-dakini and probably with the original light-green brocade mountings. (Also see Comment #1 by Vidya Dehejia.)

Label

Six hundred years ago, a Tibetan abbot venerated his teacher and celebrated the establishment of a monastery by commissioning these precisely painted and richly colored mandalas, or meditation diagrams, on a cloth thangka (also tanka).  Exquisite scrollwork, slender figures, and a spirited depiction indicate that the painters came to Tibet from the adjoining Himalayan kingdom of Nepal.


Buddhist adepts visualize the mandala as a three-dimensional palace.  During meditation, practitioners imagine themselves traversing macabre cremation grounds and then passing through a ring of flames to enter the square of the mandala-palace. After meditating upon the deities in the four outer circles, they reach the principal deity dwelling in the mandala's center. The red, yellow, and blue forms of the female deity Varahi appear in three of the squares, and the male deity Vajra-Humkara, in union with his consort, appears in this thangka's fourth innermost shrine.

Published References
  • Ideals of Beauty: Asian and American Art in the Freer and Sackler Galleries. Thames and Hudson World of Art London and Washington, 2010. pp. 108-109.
  • Paths to Perfection, Buddhist Art at the Freer/Sackler. Washington. pp. 114-115, 142-143.
  • Thomas Lawton, Thomas W. Lentz. Beyond the Legacy: Anniversary Acquisitions for the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. vol. 1 Washington, 1998. pp. 172-175.
Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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