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Rossi & Rossi
91c Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6JB
Tel: 020 7321 0208
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Lineage thangka

Lineage thangka
Western Tibet
14th c.
distemper on cloth
57 x 49 cm

This painting belongs to the same school, and perhaps to the same workshop, as two well-known c. fourteenth century paintings from Western Tibet. Vajradhara, celestial exponent of Kagyu order teachings, appears as the main figure in the upper left quadrant. To his left is a dark-skinned yogin with a mesmeric stare. He holds the implements of a Tantric practitioner: a diamond sceptre (vajra) and skullcap (kapala), adorned in white bone ornaments and a white lower garment that gathers loosely around his upper thighs. Below are two enthroned Tibetan monks whose high foreheads, long eyes and sweeping brows resemble those in figures of Tibetan teachers at Alchi monastery.

Indeed, evidence that paintings such as this were produced in the western Tibetan cultural sphere can be found in the murals of Alchi's Lhakhang Soma (Iha.khang, New Temple) and Lotsawa Lhakhang ( Iha.khang, Translator's Chapel). As its name suggests, the Lhakhang Soma is later than other buildings at Alchi whose murals may be dated to c. 1200. A c. fourteenth century date is often ascribed to these later murals at Aichi and to thangka paintings in a related style. The Lhakhang Soma murals show figures in a style and in compositions much like that in the work under discussion, as may be seen clearly in a wide angle photograph. Attention to textiles and to patterns of cloth are also a characteristic of murals at Alchi, as has been demonstrated by Roger Goepper and Jaroslav Poncar. The textile behind the throne cushion in the bottom right quadrant clearly mimics tie-resist dyeing, as does that of Vajradhara in the upper left. And the throne textiles of each of the main four figures are in distinctive and imaginative patterns.

Humourous flourishes can be found in the throne sidebars in the painting's lower left quadrant. The animals in this ancient Indic throne structure are familiar to anyone acquainted with Himalayan art, but here the artist has turned the elephant on his back, his trunk and foreleg upward﷓stretched to support a leogriff who usually stands upright on its hind legs, but here pushes against the elephant with its forelegs, its hind legs supporting the makara and upper throne above. The winged bird above the halo of the hierarch on the right peers at the viewer, his eyes literally resting on top of the outer ring of the hierarch's golden halo. And the male and female human﷓birds (kinnara/kinnari) in the latter's throne sidebars, typically unassuming creatures in Himalayan art, here proudly reveal their genders.

all images © Rossi & Rossi

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