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Click here to go to the article reviewed here: The Sculpture of Chöying Dorjé, Tenth Karmapa by Ian Alsop
10th Karmapa sculpture forum
Review by Ulrich von Schroeder (October 2012)
text and photos © asianart.com and the author except as where otherwise noted
Alsop Fig. 8.1
Alsop Fig. 8.2
Alsop Fig. 8.3
Alsop Fig. 8.4
Alsop Fig. 8.5
Alsop Fig. 8.6
Published by Ulrich von Schroeder as Yarlung Period in Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet. Vol. Two: Tibet & China. pp. 736–795; Figs. XII–13/14; Pls. 174–182.The Black Hat Eccentric: Artistic Visions of the Tenth Karmapa
Ian Alsop: The Sculpture of Chöying Dorje, Tenth Karmapa (pages 215–245)The Black Hat Eccentric: Artistic Vision of the Tenth Karmapa
Ian Alsop argues that the copper statue in the von Schroeder collection, attributed by an inscription to the Tenth Karmapa, is not a later inscribed statue made during the Yarlung dynasty, but was instead cast and artificially aged by the Tenth Karmapa [Fig. 8.2]. In 2011, John Guy, curator of South & Southeast Asian art at the Metropolitan Museum, had the opportunity to examine this statue and commented: “The inscription has obviously been added to a very old and worn statue. If the statue and inscription would be contemporary than the entire inscription would have been worn away.”
This solid-cast copper statue of a syncretic character with aspects of Vajrapāṇi and Kubera has been in the von Schroeder collection for sixteen years (Fig. 8.2). During these years many Tibetologists and arthistorians studied this image closely. All unanimously came to the conclusion that the inscription in dBu can script: || rje btsun chos dbyings rdo rje’i phyag bzo || “A work made by the venerable Chos dbyings rdo rje” is not contemporary with the image but has been added to a much older statue in the 17th century at the earliest.
Syncretism found in some of the early Tibetan statues manifests the struggle between the indigenous priests and the foreign Hindu and Buddhist missionaries who tried to gain influence among the Tibetans. Syncretism or composite sculptures are an old phenomenon in India and Nepal and were often the result of inter-sectarian conflicts. Many Hindu deities were incorporated into Buddhism, such as Bhairava, Ganeṣa, Hayagrīva, Kubera, Mahākala, Śiva, Yama, etc. Composite deities, to name a few, include Ardhanārīśvara, Hari Hara, Kalki, Lakoemī-Nārāyaṇa, Mahāvidyā-Tārā, Śiva-Lokeśvara, Sūrya-Brahmā, Sūrya-Lokeśvara, Viṣṇu-Lokeśvara, or the Hindu deities crowned by Buddhist tathāgatas listed in the Niṣpannayogāvalī . In India as well as in Nepal, unusual forms of deities exist that are not documented by any literary references. Why should ancient Tibet be an exception?
Unbiased Research vs. Hidden Agenda
Objective scholarly research does not know its results in advance. Methodical research requires a neutral, impartial, unprejudiced, and flexible method that takes all evidence into consideration. The chapters on the Yarlung dynasty and the school founded by the Tenth Karma pa Chos dbyings rdo rje (1604–1674) in Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet (2001) are the result of more than twenty years of research and fourteen expeditions to Tibet. All illustrated sculptures have been personally examined several times and discussed with many connoisseurs of Tibetan art whose opinion I highly appreciate. The fact that my personal collection includes about twelve paintings and nine sculptures belonging to the tradition founded by Chöying Dorje illustrates my familiarity with his work.
The thesis by Ian Alsop states that Chöying Dorje artificially aged his own work by selective application of the gilding and subsequently personally requested somebody to add the inscription: "A work made by the venerable Chos dbyings rdo rje."
Ian Alsop clearly had a hidden agenda and wrote the thesis to prove his theory, which thus is not the outcome of impartial research. A hidden agenda is prejudiced and always noticeable when statements such as the following appear in the text: "… it is not surprising (p. 220); … it would seem plausible (p. 221); … we should not be surprised (p. 223); … so we are not surprised to see (p. 224); … it is not surprising to see (p. 224); … nor should we be surprised (p. 227); … it would be natural (p. 227); … I believe (p. 245).
A hidden agenda leads to a one-sided research that tries to make sense of a predetermined thesis, and in this case without having touched and examined any of the sculptures attributed to the Yarlung dynasty in my publication Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet (2001). Ian Alsop disputes the old and worn appearance of these statues and states that in ancient times there existed a tradition in Tibet of producing statues with 'manufactured wear'. Ian Alsop on page 227: "Regarding the worn appearance of the eight sculptures [attributed in Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet to the Yarlung Dynasty], I agree with von Schroeder that these sculptures – especially the first six of eight (Figs. 8.1 to 8.6) appear worn, and thus, appear old." This of course poses a problem if these statues have to fit the hidden agenda to have been cast by Chöying Dorje in the 17th century. Ian Alsop: "It is a truism with considerable validity that judging the age of a Himalayan sculpture by its surface condition is much less reliable than documentary evidence such as inscription or stylistic analysis." Ian Alsop then hides the pursuit of his hidden agenda with a question, although he knows the answer from the very beginning: "Is it possible that Chöying Dorje consciously imitated an ancient appearance in some of the sculptures he made?" Ian Alsop: "David Weldon has pointed out in several articles the existence of a tradition in Tibet of 'manufactured wear', an effect of age that was manufactured at the sculptures' inception, presumably to replicate wear observed on old statues that had lost their gilding through extensive handling."
Why would Chöying Dorje create statues looking aged and then have them inscribed as representing his work? To what purpose? Actually David Weldon did not publish several articles as claimed by Ian Alsop, but actually only one that was published twice. The whole argumentation is based on the photograph of one Nepalese-style image most likely cast in the 18th or 19th century in Beijing with the help of matrixes. In China there exists an old tradition to fake all kind of art objects, whereas in Tibet statues are made for worship and the idea of making a statue artificially looking old makes no sense. Ian Alsop then adds that the Tibetan tradition to replicate old statues is "most noticeably achieved by selective application of the gilding". Ian Alsop seems not to be aware that a new statue with partial gilding will never resemble an old statue originally fully gilt and subsequently worn over many centuries of ritual handling. Ian Alsop then quotes David Weldon from a forthcoming article about the 'manufactured wear'. Neither Ian Alsop nor David Weldon considered it necessary to examine the copper sculptures in the original in order to write about them. Of course, if the outcome of the discussion is known from the outset – there is no need for indepth research. Collectors beware – Ian Alsop claims that the age of Indo-Tibetan metal sculptures cannot be judged by style and surface condition?
Conclusion by Ian Alsop
Ian Alsop on page 245: "The six extraordinary sculptures believed by Ulrich von Schroeder to be ancient works of artists from the seventh to eight centuries which then served as models for Chöying Dorje": I believe they are the works of this master himself, probably created at a young age. In the case of some other sculptures [two wood carvings and four ivory carvings] we agree that they should be included among the Tenth Karmapa's works (Figs. 8.20–8.25)." Yet another group are the brass sculptures attributed by Ulrich von 4 Schroeder in Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet (2001) to Chöying Dorje. Ian Alsop: "I feel they are more likely the work of later copyists." From a hidden agenda one cannot expect any explanation as from where Chöying Dorje got the inspiration for the obviously old copper statues. Also, if all the brass statues are the work of later copyist, then what did they copy? No problem for Ian Alsop: "… then [the ivory] Fig. 8.24, as we can see, must have been modelled on [the Jokhang copper statue of a male deity seated on a cow] 8.1. Thus Chöying Dorje copied or adapted his own perhaps much earlier work [when he was a young artist] but changed it to make it more readily identifiable as a figure of Avalokiteśvara [seated on a cow]" (page 236). Ian Alsop thus admits that the Jokhang copper statue does not resemble Chöying Dorje's 'Avalokiteśvara seated on a cow'. What about Chöying Dorje having visions about 'Avalokiteśvara seated on a cow and holding the stem of a lily' (Fig. 8.30) likely following one of his visits to the Jokhang? Quotation from Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet (2001): The following episode took place just before the death of the Karma pa's teacher Chos kyi dbang phyug, the Sixth Zhwa dmar pa (1584–1630), when Chöying Dorje turned twenty-six years old: "Furthermore, during those times it is certain that many amazing signs occurred, such as beholding the faces of the divine chosen deities, but he did not say to anyone, 'it happened like this'. Nevertheless, since he created unprecedented images of Tārā in the form of a human girl with an extremely passionate demeanour and of Avalokiteśvara seated upon a cow and holding the stem of a lily, everyone proclaimed that these were from having beheld their faces." Ian Alsop's nevertheless is convinced that the heavy solid cast copper statue (Fig. 8.1) in the collection of the Jokhang temple represents Chöying Dorje's visionary 'Avalokiteśvara seated upon a cow and holding the stem of a lily' and thus cannot be the stimulus for his vision. The Jokhang statue certainly does not resemble an Avalokitevara seated upon a cow holding the stem of a lily (Fig. 8.1).
On page 219 Ian Alsop claims that Chöying Dorje himself had the copper statues in the Jokhang inscribed: "While it is my belief that they faithfully represent the fact that Chöying Dorje made the sculptures [with the inscription], even if we accept them as truthful, we cannot be certain how they came to be inscribed." … Nevertheless, we cannot rule out that the Karmapa himself had them inscribed; if the Karmapa instructed someone to inscribe the images with an attribution to him as the artist, without specifying the wording, it would be natural for honorifics to be used." (Figs. 8.1–8.3). Such statements are pure speculation and do not help the understanding the oeuvre of Chöying Dorje. Conclusions based on beliefs obviously lack evidence and are not facts. It reminds us of the equally speculative attribution, by somebody else, of the Cleveland Green Tārā thangka to Anigo.
Clay sculpture adds to the variety of Chöying Dorje's oeuvre (Figs. 8.18)
Ian Alsop makes another unsupported statement with regard to clay statues allegedly made by Chöying Dorje (p. 229): "And yet another sculpture, this one in clay, adds to the variety of the oeuvre [of Chöying Dorje]" (Fig. 8.18). This statue is in the von Schroeder collection and is not modelled in clay but carved of sandalwood. Until proven wrong, we can assume that Chöying Dorje only used clay for the modelling of large statues, of which none might have survived. Nobody involved with the Tenth Karmapa exhibition bothered to study my collection of twelve paintings and ten sculptures related to Chöying Dorje's tradition.
Ivory steles with the events in the life of Buddha Śākyamuni (Figs. 8.22 & 8.23)
Ian Alsop on the two ivory steles with the events in the life of Buddha attributed to Chöying Dorje (pp. 232–233): "It is interesting to note that the two compositions, almost identical in size, differ in the treatment of the central Buddha – Indo-Kashmir style in one (Fig. 8.22) and Tibeto-Chinese in the other (Fig. 8.23)". Kashmir ivories were likely the source of inspiration. One of the principal Buddhas has both shoulders covered by the garment (Fig. 8.22), the other only one shoulder (Fig. 8.23). Otherwise both Buddhas are very similar in style. Anyway, the term "Tibeto-Chinese style" applies to Chinese sculptures with Tibetan influence.
"The Language of Art: The challenge of translating art historical terms from the biography of the Tenth Karmapa" by David P. Jackson (pp. 279–289)
We can assure David Jackson that every Tibetologist translates Tibetan text according to his own preferences, and there is never an agreement. Writing about Mara-subduing Buddhas, David Jackson writes (p. 282): "Von Schroeder did not mention it, but Mara-subduing Buddhas are often portrayed sitting on a seat of stylized vegetable." Correct is that von Schroeder discusses four Buddha statues of this type in Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, (2001), pp. 266–267, pls. 85A–85F: "The four images are all seated on a decorated cushion which actually symbolizes the vajrāsana stone of Śākyamuni and which is characteristic of the principal Buddha image inside the Mahābodhi Stūpa at Bodhgayā, known to the Tibetans as rDo rje gdan (Skt.: Vajrāsana), dating from the Pāla period. It is therefore probable that they represent copies of this particularly sacred image, and many were presumably cast at Bodhgayā and sold there to visiting pilgrims. The kīrtimukha emblem on the cushion is another characteristic." David Jackson's 'seat of stylized vegetable' actually symbolizes the vajrāsana stone of Śākyamuni. This type of Buddha is further elaborated on in 108 Buddhist Statues in Tibet, (2008), p. 76, pl. 18A.
On pages 282–286 David Jackson discusses a particular Buddha statue known as Thub dbang gSer gling ma, the 'Powerful Sage from Suvarṇadvīpa', which Chöying Dorje saw in 1637 when he visited the monastery of Tsethang. According to the account of 'Jigs med Gling pa (1729–1798) these images were mistakenly believed to have been made in Bukhara and Khotan. In 2002 I was fortunate to acquire a white sandalwood statue of the Udayāna-type Buddha identified by the aureole as a work of Chöying Dorje. Ironically, this standing Buddha statue had been offered initially as originating from Khotan. One of the distinct marks of the Udayāna Buddha statue and its replicas are the narrow and symmetrically distributed pleats of the upper monastic garment covering both shoulders. This is the only standing Buddha known among the sculptures and paintings of Chöying Dorje.
Conclusion by the Reviewer
Karl Debreczeny has studied all the aspect of Chöying Dorje as a painter over many years. His contributions to this exhibition catalogue are profound, well-researched and take into consideration Tibetan and Chinese literary references. His contributions will be of lasting value and indispensable for all future research on the paintings of Chöying Dorje. However, some of his conclusions will in future be challenged.
For the reader, the article by Ian Alsop on the sculpture by Chöying Dorje is difficult to read and resembles a patchwork of unrelated and conflicting speculations trying to fit the predetermined conclusion. The article seems to have been written in a hurry and leaves readers wondering why Ian Alsop volunteered to write about a subject he never researched prior to this exhibition.
The prospect of writing a thesis with conclusions based on photographs has never been an option for myself. Without my research and publications about the sculptures of Chöying Dorje, the Rubin Museum catalogue would likely not contain a single sculpture with the exception of the disputed Rumtek statues. Also, without my engagement, David Jackson would never have known about Chöying Dorje's paintings in the Alain Bordier collection.
Personally I will continue to spend many years on a single research project – and only hand over a manuscript to the printer after its contents have been discussed with various scholars specialized in particular aspects of the topics. There is no need for me to further discuss the speculations put forward in this catalogue. Speculative attributions of this kind motivated me thirty-five years ago to compile Indo- Tibetan Bronzes (published in 1981).
Alsop, Ian. 2012. "Chapter 8: The Sculpture of Chöying Dorje, Tenth Karmapa", The Black Hat Eccentric: Artistic Visions of the Tenth Karmapa, [catalogue of the postponed exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art, New York, 2012], edited by Karl Debreczeny; pp. 215–245; 49 figs.
Debreczeny, Karl (editor). 2012. The Black Hat Eccentric: Artistic Visions of the Tenth Karmapa, [catalogue of the postponed exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art, New York, 2012]. (New York: Rubin Museum of Art).
Jackson, David P. 2012. "Chapter 10: The Language of Art: The challenge of translating art historical terms from the biography of the Tenth Karmapa", The Black Hat Eccentric: Artistic Visions of the Tenth Karmapa, [catalogue of the postponed exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art, New York, 2012], edited by Karl Debreczeny; pp. 279–289; 11 figs.
von Schroeder, Ulrich and von Schroeder, Heidi. 2009. Tibetan Art of the Alain Bordier Foundation. (Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications, Ltd., for the Alain Bordier Foundation). ISBN-10: 962- 7049-12-3; ISBN-13: 978-962-7049-12-8
von Schroeder, Ulrich. 1990. Buddhist Sculptures of Sri Lanka. (Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications, Ltd.). ISBN 962-7049-05-0 / ISBN 978-962-7049-05-0
von Schroeder, Ulrich. 1992. The Golden Age of Sculpture in Sri Lanka - Masterpieces of Buddhist and Hindu Bronzes from Museums in Sri Lanka, [catalogue of the exhibition held at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, D. C., 1st November 1992 – 26th September 1993]. (Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications, Ltd.). ISBN 962-7049-06-9 / ISBN 978-962-7049-06-7
von Schroeder, Ulrich. 2001. Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet. Vol. One: India & Nepal; Vol. Two: Tibet & China. (Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications, Ltd.). ISBN-10: 962-7049-07-7; ISBN-13: 978-962- 7049-07-4
von Schroeder, Ulrich. 2006. Empowered Masters: Tibetan Wall Paintings of Mahasiddhas at Gyantse. (Serindia Publications, Chicago; and Visual Dharma Publications, Ltd., Hong Kong). ISBN-10: 1- 932476-24-5; ISBN-13: 978-1-932476-24-8
von Schroeder, Ulrich. 2008. 108 Buddhist Statues in Tibet. (Serindia Publications, Chicago; and Visual Dharma Publications, Ltd., Hong Kong). ISBN-10: 962-7049-08-5; ISBN-13: 978-962-7049-08-1 [The publication 108 Buddhist Statues in Tibet contains a DVD with digital pictures of the 108 illustrated statues. The DVD includes in addition digital pictures of the 307 most important Buddhist sculptures in the collection of the Jokhang/ Lhasa gTsug lag khang illustrated in Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet published in 2001. Also included are 108 previously unpublished sculptures of the collection of the Jo khang/Lhasa gTsug lag khang illustrated in Jokhang – Tibet's Most Sacred Temple, edited by Gyurme Dorje published 2009. In total digital photographs of 523 Buddhist statues can be downloaded free of charge by anyone, for personal use or for publication].
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Ian Alsop is irritated about the occurrance of cows with horns curved downward among the discussed sculptures: "… cow with clearly downturned horns, which is not only highly unusual among Buddhist iconography but also quite unusual among cows". Ian Alsop seems not be aware that in Tibet even today there exist cows with horns curved downward. Anyway, cows are associated with Hindu deities integrated into the Buddhist pantheon.
Some breeds of cattle naturally grow horns downward, such as this cow photographed by Andrea Sanfilippo near Yangtse. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/photo-contest/2012/entries/170133/view
10th Karmapa sculpture forum
Click here to go to the article reviewed here: The Sculpture of Chöying Dorjé, Tenth Karmapa by Ian Alsop
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