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Ulrich von Schroeder

Tibetan Thangka Paintings

The first painting depicts the 56–deity Pancaraksa Devi Mandala of the Vajravali Series (13). The principal deity in the centre is Mahapratisara, one of the Pancaraksa or “five protectresses”. These goddesses protect from different dangers, such as diseases, demons, sins, and all kinds of wild animals. The deities and teachers depicted in the upper horizontal register commemorate the lineage of transmission, although not identified by inscriptions. This 15th-century thangka belongs to the Sakya tradition strongly influenced by Nepalese art. Many of the Sakya paintings were made by Newar artists from Nepal.

    Nila-Vajravidarana, a form of Vajrapani, is depicted in the centre of a thangka allegedly discovered in one of the caves located in the cliffs above the Yellow River in North-Eastern Tibet (Qinghai) (14). This thangka is an example of the Kokonor Tibetan culture and dates from the 13th century. Stylistically, this painting shows a distinct influence of the North-Eastern Indian Pala tradition. There are also similarities with paintings discovered at Khara-Khoto, a former Tangut frontier outpost of the Xi Xia kingdom.

    The task of protecting Buddhism against adversaries is assigned to a group of deities known as dharmapala, or “protector of the religious law”. Important among these mostly wrathful deities is Sri-Devi, the chief guardian-goddess of the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon. One of her forms, perhaps Dhumavas Sri-Devi, or the “smoke-clad-lady”, is the principal goddess in the centre of the third thangka dating from the 14th century (15). In accordance with her duty she is depicted in a fierce aspect brandishing weapons. She is surrounded by twenty-two attendant goddesses, eighteen of them painted in the two bottom registers. At the top is a lineage of Vajradhara with six masters and one deity.

    The thangka illustrated below depicts the life story of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni. It shows him seated inside the Mahabodhi Stupa at Bodhgaya in Northern India (16). It was here that the Buddha-to-be attained enlightenment. The life story starts in the upper right corner and is arranged clockwise. In the vertical registers immediately to both sides of the Budha are representations of the sixteen arhats, the first ordained disciples, as well as the lay disciple Dharmatala. Standing to the right and left of the Buddha are his favourite disciples, Maudgalyayana and Sariputra. 

    A small thangka records the worship of the white Tara by Ripumalla, the Khasa Malla ruler of Western Nepal and Western Tibet, together with one of his sons, Prince Samgramamalla or Prince Pratapamalla (17). King Ripumalla, shown in humble attitude, is identified by the Sanskrit inscription in Devanagari script at the bottom of the painting. This is the only published thangka that can be attributed to the Khasa Malla kingdom on the basis of an inscription. It appears that Newar artists of the Kathmandu Valley worked for the Khasa Malla patrons, as also documented by metal statues (21).

    A rare painting on silk by the Tenth Karmapa Chöying Dorje (1604–1674) depicts in the centre Buddha Sakyamuni attended by his main disciples Sariputra and Maudgalyayana (18). In the foreground are three worshippers in respectful attitude, faced by three musicians in the other corner. In the upper corners are a black-hat Karmapa and a red-hat Shamarpa, perhaps Chöying Dorje and his teacher Chökyi Wangchug, the Sixth Shamarpa. While his sculptures reflect his life-long fascination with Kashmir statues, his paintings are strongly influenced by Chinese traditions.

13.  Mandala des Pancaraksa. Tibet; XVe siècle

       Peinture sur toile. 52 x 45 cm


14.  Nila-Vajravidarana. Tibet du Nord-Est (Kokonor): XIIIe siècle

       Peinture sur toile. 64 x 51 cm


15.  Dhumasvas Sri-Devi. Tibet; XIVe siècle

       Peinture sur toile. 72 x 51 cm

16.  Histoire de la vie du Bouddha Sakyamuni. Tibet; XIVe s

       Peinture sur toile. 69,5 x 59,5 cm


17.  Roi Ripumalla et Tara blanche. Khasa Malla; XIVe siècle

       Peinture sur toile. 29,8 x 24,8 cm


18.  Bouddha Sakyamuni par le Xe Karmapa Chöying Dorje

       XVIIe siècle. Peinture sur soie. 64 x 51 cm