Rossi & Rossi, London
European Private Collection, acquired in 1993
The painting depicts the mandala of Shakyamuni Buddha in the form of Shakya Simha, as described in the Vajravali (Adamantine Garland) treatise by Abhayakaragupta (d. 1125), in which the Indian pandit compiled the mandala practice of esoteric Buddhist deities in extensive iconographic detail.
The painting is one of numerous mandalas known from the same series that remains amongst the finest and most important Tibetan works of art from the second half of the fourteenth century. Paintings from the series were first published and recognized as masterpieces by Robert Burawoy in his seminal 1978 Paris exhibition “Peintures du monastère de Nor,” which featured four of the mandalas. At that time the paintings were thought to be from Ngor monastery, but current scholarship suggests a provenance of Shalu is likely. Paintings from the set are preserved in museum and private collections worldwide, and their historical importance has been documented by scholars including Pratapaditya Pal, Steven M. Kossak and Jane Casey Singer, Amy Heller, John C. Huntington and Dina Bangdel, Jane Casey, Steven Kossak, and Jeff Watt. Each of the mandalas depict Lama Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen (1312-1375) at the center of the upper register, suggesting that the cycle of mandalas is dedicated to him. Lama Dampa was a student and patron of the celebrated scholar Buton Rinchen Drup (1290-1364), the eleventh abbot of Shalu monastery. Watt suggests the paintings may have been dedicated to Lama Dampa by his devoted student Chen-nga Chenpo (1310-1370).
The series is the most extensive of all Tibetan Vajravali mandala sets from the fourteenth century. Each example is designed and painted with the same vibrant palette and exquisite attention to detail. While the overall format and dimension of the paintings is the same throughout the series, the iconography of the deity represented dictates the final composition of each work. Here, Shakya Simha is seated on his crouching white snow-lion surrounded by an entourage of deities within the mandala palace. Unlike many in the series there are no charnel grounds depicted. In their place a ring of fabulous Vedic planetary deities encircles the palace. Buddhas within scrolling vine appear in the quadrants outside the palace. A Sakya lineage is depicted in the upper register, and deities and wealth gods in the lower register accompany the donor monk seated next to an offering table. This highly-important Tibetan painting retains its original blue silk fishtail-shaped mounts and resist-dyed silk veils.
1 See Jeff Watt, https://www.himalayanart.org/search/set.cfm?setID=1556
2 Robert Burawoy, Peintures du monastère de Nor, Paris, 1978
3 Pratapaditya Pal, Tibetan Paintings: A Study of Tibetan Thangkas, Eleventh to Nineteenth Centuries, Basel, 1984, and Tibet: Tradition and Change, Albuquerque, 1997, pp. 146-147
4 Steven M. Kossak and Jane Casey Singer, Sacred Visions: Early Paintings from Central Tibet, New York, 1998, pp. 163-164
5 “The Vajravali Mandala of Shalu and Sakya: The Legacy of Buton (1290-1364)” in Orientations, Hong Kong, May 2003, pp. 69-73
6 John C. Huntington and Dina Bangdel, The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art, Serindia, 2003, pp. 308-312
7 Jane Casey in Divine Presence, Barcelona, 2003, p. 148
8 Steven M. Kossak, Painted Images of Enlightenment: Early Tibetan Thangkas, 1050-1450, Mumbai, 2010, pp. 107-109
9 Jeff Watt, https://www.himalayanart.org/search/set.cfm?setID=2083