Base for an offering mandala used in Tibetan Buddhist rituals

The mandala base is a cast brass circle with a horizontal top and flat-side walls. The exterior surface is covered with a design created with enamels applied in the cloisonné technique and the interior is plain, yellow metal. The shape of the base resembles a Western cake pan, but when it is used, the base is inverted so that the decorated top faces upward and the hollow cavity is underneath. It serves as a stand, or base, to hold offerings (usually grain), which are arranged to form a mandala. Two small openings appear in the side walls of the base, which is where small rings were originally attached.

The background color of the cloisonné is turquoise blue and the design consists of flowers, leaves, and Buddhist symbols in combinations of blue, yellow, red, white, and green. There is very little use of intermingled colors. The decorative pattern on the top consists of an open-faced lotus flower (composed of two concentric rings of ten petals), which appears at the center. The flower is surrounded by a scrolling lotus vine that supports eight lotus blossoms, each topped by one of the Eight Precious Buddhist symbols. A second ring of scrolling lotus vine, also with eight blossoms, encircles the first ring. Green leaves attached to the vine scrolls are interspersed throughout the design. A scrolling lotus vine similar to the outermost vine scroll on the top decorated the side walls of the mandala base.

Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, Probably Yongle reign, early 15th century
Medium
Enamels on brass, wire, traces of gilding (cloisonné)
Dimensions
H x W x D: 7.7 x 31 x 31 cm (3 1/16 x 12 3/16 x 12 3/16 in)
Geography
China
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Collection
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
F1998.295
On View Location
Freer Gallery 13: Looking Out, Looking In: Art in Late Imperial China
Classification(s)
Ceremonial Object, Cloisonne
Type

Stand

Keywords
Buddhism, China, flower, lotus, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), stand
Provenance
Provenance research underway.
Description

The mandala base is a cast brass circle with a horizontal top and flat-side walls. The exterior surface is covered with a design created with enamels applied in the cloisonné technique and the interior is plain, yellow metal. The shape of the base resembles a Western cake pan, but when it is used, the base is inverted so that the decorated top faces upward and the hollow cavity is underneath. It serves as a stand, or base, to hold offerings (usually grain), which are arranged to form a mandala. Two small openings appear in the side walls of the base, which is where small rings were originally attached.

The background color of the cloisonné is turquoise blue and the design consists of flowers, leaves, and Buddhist symbols in combinations of blue, yellow, red, white, and green. There is very little use of intermingled colors. The decorative pattern on the top consists of an open-faced lotus flower (composed of two concentric rings of ten petals), which appears at the center. The flower is surrounded by a scrolling lotus vine that supports eight lotus blossoms, each topped by one of the Eight Precious Buddhist symbols. A second ring of scrolling lotus vine, also with eight blossoms, encircles the first ring. Green leaves attached to the vine scrolls are interspersed throughout the design. A scrolling lotus vine similar to the outermost vine scroll on the top decorated the side walls of the mandala base.

Label

This object draws attention to the frequent interaction and gift exchange between Tibet and China in the first half of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). This colorful cloisonne object was made for a Tibetan temple to serve as the base for a three-dimensional mandala, or cosmic diagram. Worshipers would pile grain on top of the base as a holy offering. The grain was arranged inside concentric iron rings to create a tiered tower.

The mandala base was made in China under imperial patronage as a gift for the emperor to give to visiting Tibetan lamas or prelates. The design features auspicious Buddhist symbols, including a stylized lotus flower and eight precious objects, such as a conch shell to represent the voice of Buddha and an umbrella to signify his spiritual authority.




Published References
  • Paths to Perfection, Buddhist Art at the Freer/Sackler. Washington. pp. 144-145.
  • The Ceramics Cultural Heritage: Proceedings of the International SYmposium, "The Ceramics Heritage" of the 8th CIMTEC-World Ceramics Congress and Forum on New Materials. Florence, Italy. pp. 161-173.
  • A Study of Three Cloisonne Enameled Bases for a Mandala in the Cleveland Museum of Art, The Freer Gallery of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. no. 23, January 2007. p. 185.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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