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A HIGHLY IMPORTANT IMPERIAL EMBROIDERED SILK THANGKA
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A HIGHLY IMPORTANT IMPERIAL EMBROIDERED SILK THANGKA\nYONGLE SIX-CHARACTER PRESENTATION MARK AND OF THE PERIOD (1402-1424)\nThis massive panel is exquisitely embroidered in gold thread and brilliant coloured silk threads on leaf-green jiang chou silk enriched with a regular pattern of dark blue medallions of curled leafy scrolls outlined with gold thread. The central image is of the wrathful Raktayamari, depicted in tones of red, standing in yab-yum embracing his consort Vajravetali. Her left leg encircling his waist, his right hand wielding above his head a khatvanga embellished with human heads in varying states and the vajra thunderbolt, his left arm supporting his facing consort and holding a kapala or skull cap in his left hand. The locked couple is trampling on the blue corpse of Yama, the Lord of death, wearing a tiger skin and crown, lying on the back of their mount, a brown buffalo recumbent on a multi-coloured lotus base. All below two rows of buddhas and bodhisattvas seated on lotus bases, the upper including Heruka Vajrabhairava on the far left and Manjusri on the far right, flanking the five Dhyani Buddhas, Ratnasambhava, Akshobhya, Vairocana, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi. The lower row with Green Tara and White Tara. On the lower panel is a row of seven offering goddesses dancing on lotus bases and holding aloft dishes as offerings below the couple. The thangka is bordered by an embroidered yellow-ground band of vajra. On the upper right side is the vertical presentation mark in gold thread on a red embroidered ground below the White Tara. Accompanied with a Qing dynasty silk surround now detached.\n132 x 84 in. (335.3 x 213.4 cm.)
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The main figure depicted is Raktayamari, the Red Conqueror of Death and the red form of Manjusri as Yamantaka who vanquished Yama, the Lord of Death. He brandishes a club and carries a skull bowl, while clasping his consort Vajravetali in the blissful union of wisdom and compassion. Vajravetali holds the skull bowl in the left hand, and in her other hand should be a chopper. Against a halo of flames, they stand on the crowned God of Death who carries a noose and club, upon a caparisoned buffalo on a red sun disc supported by a lotus pedestal. Both of the gods wear the crown of five skulls, and in Raktayamari's hair is an image of Vairocana.

Surmounting the thangka, on the first register, are a two-armed Heruka Vajrabhairava (far left) and Manjusri, the God of Wisdom (far right), flanking the Five Transcendent Buddhas between them. The Five Transcendent Buddhas who represent the five elements, five directions, five Buddha families, and the five wisdoms. These are arranged from left to right: the yellow Ratnasambhava, the blue Akshobhya, the white Vairocana, the red Amitabha, and the green Amoghasiddhi. Below them, on the second register, are Green Tara (left), and White Tara (right). The lower side of the panel depicts the Seven dancing goddesses, carrying various offerings.

This extraordinary thangka is very similar to two other large embroidered examples from the Jokhang Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet, illustrated by Zhang Zhongli in Wenwu, 1985, no. 11, pp. 66-71. The iconographic forumlaic arrangement of the two other Jokhang thangkas are highly comparable to the present example with the main subject-matter below two rows of smaller figures along the top and a row of seven goddesses making offerings across the lower section. The first of the Jokhang thangka depicts Chakrasamvara with his consort, his body blue and hers red. The iconography is very close to the present thangka with the same arrangments of the deities. The second of the Jokhang example depicts the Vajrabhairava, a manifestation of Manjusri. This thangka is more likely to be from another series as there are twelve seated deities on the first register and a further four below. Stylistically this differs to the 'seven-two' format on the upper portion of the Raktayamari and Chakrasamvara images. It is also interesting to point out that the green ground of the Chakrasamvara is similar to the Raktayamari. The Vajrabhairava, however, is reversed in the use of green embroidered thread on a blue ground.

During the pre-Yuan Mongol empire and early Yuan dynasty, the Sakya lineage was predominant amongst Tibetan Buddhists in China. During the late Yuan and Ming dynasties, the Karma Kagyu lineage gained prominence as preceptors to the Imperial court. The third hierarch of the Kagyu lineage, the Karmapa, visited China in 1333; the fourth Karmapa was at court between 1360 and 1364; and the fifth Karmapa, Deshin Shekpa, to whom the Yongle emperor (1403-1424) presented a characteristically shaped hat, visited between 1405-1409. For further discussion, see S. L. and J. C. Huntington, Leaves from the Bodhi Tree: The Art of Pala India (8th-12th century) and Its International Legacy, Dayton, Ohio: The Dayton Art institute, 1989.

According to Tibetan sources, Emperor Yongle was considered to be an incarnation of Manjusri, and based on his own invitation letter to the Sakya Abbot, was a consecrated Buddhist sovereign, cf. M. Henss, 'The Woven Image: Tibeto-Chinese Textile Thankas of the Yuan and Early Ming Dynasties', Orientations, November 1997, pp. 32-33. By Yongle's invitation, the Fifth Karmapa conducted a number of initiations for the emperor himself as well as funeral ceremonies in honour of Yongle's deceased parents.

Impressed with the hierarch's spiritual prowess, Yongle became the Karmapa's devoted disciple and bestowed imperial favours on the abbot. The emperor also ordered that the rituals performed by the Karmapa be recorded on a silk scroll, which was sent back to Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet, where it was seen by the Tibet scholar H. E. Richardson in the 1940s. Other imperial commissions in honour of the Karmapa included gilt bronzes, rolls of silk and several embroidered images which were especially prized by both Chinese and Tibetans for their beauty and technical excellence. It is likely that this magnificent Raktayamari panel, with Yongle presentation mark in a vertical line in the upper right corner, was such a gift. The present lot with its finely executed stitches, elaborately designed composition, and the Yongle presentation mark in a vertical line on the upper right, all attest to be an example of imperial largesse bestowed on the Karmapa. It is of interest to note in an essay by Luo Wenhua, An Embroidered Yongle Thangka Depicting Raktaymari, published in the present catalogue, pp. xx, where the author cited the discovery of a biography of an important Tibetan monk, Paldan Tashi (1377- c. 1452), a member of those who accompanied Deshin Shekpa to Nanjing. . In the biography, it is known that among the gifts from Emperor Yongle were embroidered Buddhist imageries'.

It is recorded that one of the initiations given by the Karmapa to Yongle was that of Raktayamari

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A HIGHLY IMPORTANT IMPERIAL EMBROIDERED SILK THANGKA

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World Textile Treasures

John E. Vollmer

The monumental embroidered Raktaymari thangka bearing an imperial Yongle presentation mark is one of the world's great textile treasures. In scale and quality of execution, it is one of the major landmarks of early Ming dynasty textile arts. Its context in the deluxe textile production from the period is equally remarkable. Two pieces from the same group are at the Jokhang Monastery; a much damaged, but singular, woven lampas thangka of similar monumental size and style, as well as the survival of half a dozen fragments of comparable lampas-woven thangkas (1). Seldom in history do we witness the mustering of technical mastery, aesthetic achievement and lavish investment in human and fiscal resources that result in a body of art works of such transcendence.

A long history of spectacularly large and rich textiles comes down to us, but only in description. The instructions as mentioned in the books of Exodus and in Numbers (2) for building a tabernacle to contain the Ark of the Covenant, describe a wealth of blue, purple and red textiles used for curtains to divide the various sections of the tabernacle, for covers to protect sacred objects when moving camp and for garments to clothe the priests. When moving camp, a solid blue cloth covered the Ark, already covered with the shielding curtain of finely twisted linen and blue, purple, and scarlet yarns worked with pattern of cherubim by skilled craftsmen. The tradition of using sumptuous, patterned textiles to designate spaces within places of worship continued in Judeo-Christian practice. The mosaic of the Empress Theodora and her court in the Basilica of St. Vitale in Ravenna, built in 547 by Justinian I, depicts one such curtain being pulled aside by an attendant for her entrance into the church.

A thousand years earlier, the peplos presented annually in Athens beginning in 556/5 BCE was the showpiece of the late summer Panathenea festival. Young women of the city-state were charged with weaving this large "saffron yellow" cloth patterned in blue and purple depicting the Battle of the Gods and Titans. Described as large as "a sail," it was offered to clothe the statue of the cult goddess Athena by the citizens in appreciation of her beneficence during the year past and with an entreaty for success in the year to come.

Historians of the Muslim conquest of the Sassanian empire in CE636 describe a spectacular carpet in the palace at Ctesiphon, called "the Springtime of King Chosroes" which depicted garden beds framed by watercourses with trees and flowers picked out in gold and silver threads, the paths strewn with seed pearls, the shrubs bejewelled with precious stones and the streams sparking with blue gems. The carpet is said to have been cut into small pieces and distributed as war booty. The Arab caliphates of subsequent centuries would go on to commission their own bejewelled textiles with roundels of actual pearls, rather than woven or embroidered symbolic ones.

In Buddhism, textiles seem to play rather paradoxical roles. One of the founding principles of the Buddhist faith-renunciation and withdrawal from the world of attachment was expressed in monastic garments of unbleached cotton that were patched together from old, discarded fabrics. The mantle was called kasaya, a term that originally meant "impure-colored," and referred to cast-off clothing. These remnants were to be pieced and patched into garments. Yet, during Buddhism's spread from India across Central Asia in the second and third centuries BCE, and to China in the first century CE, rituals evolved from monastic rites into public ceremonies. Special colorful textiles decorated the worship halls of shrines and temples and the celebrants of ritual were often clothed in sumptuous vestments. These, too, could be rationalized as exemplifying the principle of renunciation when donated (i.e. discarded) by the pious.

Especially created embroideries and tapestries with images of the Buddhist pantheon have been preserved from Buddhist cave sites in Central Asia. The 8th century one and a half by two meter embroidered hanging of the Buddha preaching, once belonging to Kaju-ji in Yamashina and now in Nara National Museum, and the fragmentary embroidery of Sakyamuni Buddha preaching the Lotus Sutra on Vulture Peak from Dunhuang and of the same date, now in the British Museum(3), are but two outstanding examples. Under the Yuan dynasty the production of extraordinary woven textiles, including those with pictorial Buddhist imagery, received imperial attention and support. Relocating experienced weavers and their equipment from West and Central Asia reenergized the Chinese luxury textile industries during the late 13th and early 14th centuries, such as the Yamantaka Mandale with Imperial Portraits in the Metropolitan Museum of Art Collection (4). The early Ming dynasty imperial agencies that controlled the output of these workshops built upon those accomplishments and encouraged even more spectacular results.

The Raktayamari thangka and its companions are testament to levels of piety, generosity and extravagance concentrated in the person of the Chinese emperor that remain unmatched in world history. This is the emperor who moved the imperial capital from Nanking to Beijing and had the Forbidden City built and repaired the Grand Canal all in less than 20 years. He also commissioned a fleet of gigantic treasure ships under the command of his chief eunuch Zhenghe to explore the South Pacific, South East Asia, India, the Middle East and East Africa.

While not without an ego to match his title of Son of Heaven, his accomplishments are as much the result of the concentration of extreme wealth and the ability to mobilize human and fiscal capital across a vast empire as they are about his vision of a renewed empire at the center of the civilized world. In the geopolitics of early 15th century Asia Tibet was key to the balance of power. The recently ousted Yuan dynasty Mongols remained a threat from their homeland north of the Great Wall and the continuing Mongol ties to the Buddhist leaders of that country only exacerbated the situation. Aside from the Yongle emperor's personal convictions and call to action, Ming Chinese imperial support of Kagyu sect, in contrast to the Yuan support of the Sakya school was a vehicle for demonstrations of piety and power greater than any that had preceded the Ming dynasty.

At the time the Raktayamari thangka was created the most celebrated embroideries in the West were the luxury secular and ecclesiastical embroideries made in England, known as opus anglicanum that often used gold and silver threads on rich silk velvet, such as Syon cope in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection dating from 1300-1320 (5). While the workmanship can be compared, the scale of the surviving examples remains human, not monumental. Wall-sized works from around 1400 were usually tapestry-woven, largely in wool, such as the set of Nine Heroes tapestries produced in South Netherlands, preserved at the Cloisters Museum in New York. They were probably made for Jean, duc de Berry, one of great art patrons of his day. His spending on his collection was so lavish as to leave him deeply in debt when he died in 1416.

In fact few rulers in history have commanded the authority and mustered the resources that led to achievements on the scale of those of the Yongle emperor. The French monarch, Louis XIV ruling a full century later, arguably did as much to transform French culture and the arts. Yet in the realm of pictorial textiles, with the exception of tapestry weaving, there was nothing comparable to the great Buddhist ritual hangings made as diplomatic gifts to Tibet in the early years of the 15th century.

The Raktayamari thangka contains millions and millions of carefully placed stitches of floss silk in a dazzling array of colours, covering every square inch of the surface of the textile. From a distance it reads as a painting, as was the intention, but this picture is made with stitches, not brush strokes. The tradition of presenting magnificent Chinese textiles to select Tibetan monasteries and religious and secular leaders continued until the end of the 16th century and was reinstituted in the late 17th century under the Qing dynasty. None of the tapestry or drawloom woven thangka or any of the embroidered ones approached the scale and extraordinary skill represented in the Raktayamari thangka and its contemporary textiles.

Bibilography

(1) Valrae Reynolds, 'Buddhist Silk Textiles: Evidence for Patronage and Ritual Practice in China and Tibet', Orientations, Vol. 28-4, April 1997, pp. 52-63

(2) Probably during the second millennium BCE

(3) Shelagh Vainker, Chinese Silk: A Cultural History, London and New Brunswick, New Jersey: The British Museum Press and Rutgers University Press, 2004, p. 75

(4) James C.Y. Watt and Anne E. Wardwell, When Silk was Gold, Central Asian and Chinese Textiles, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997, pp. 95-99.

(5) Donald King and Santina Levey, The Victoria & Albert Museum's textile collection: embroidery in Britain from 1200 to 1750, London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1993, pl. 8 and 9.

An Embroidered Yongle Thangka Depicting Raktayamari

Luo Wenhua, Researcher of Palace Museum, Beijing

The Yongle and Xuande periods produced some of the finest and most outstanding imperial Tibetan-style Buddhist art. It is highly acclaimed both in the academic and the collecting world for its technical accomplishments, its symbolism and unique artistic style that draw influences from both China proper and Tibet, incorporating elements of Nepalese classicism. Apart from some in museums and private collections around the world, most of these beautiful works of art are still kept in monasteries in Tibet. Some of the oldest and largest temples have large collections of these precious Imperial objects from the Ming court, but their exact quantity is unknown. Even though there appears to be only a few Imperial Yongle textile thangka (presently no imperial thangka can be dated unequivocally to the Xuande period) in existence, we are equally unclear as to precisely how many have survived. In those great Tibetan monasteries that have never published their collections, such as the Potala Palace in Lhasa and the Sakya Monastery in western Tibet, we do not know how many unknown Ming imperial thangka there are. We can only be certain that the examples we know through limited publications may only be the tip of an iceberg.

The Yongle-marked embroidered thangka of Raktayamari being offered in Christie's is one such rare example. It was presented as a gift by the Chogyal of Sikkim to his English friend in the 1940s and has attracted a lot of attention in the art market. The author will discuss its historical importance, iconographical characteristics and its unique Tibeto-Chinese style in the following essay, in light of the recent research and new materials on Tibetan-style imperial Buddhist art in the Yongle period.

Of the seven known Yongle-marked thangkas, five are preserved in Tibetan monasteries or cultural organizations, while only two are in private collections. Although the author would not claim to have found all the published examples, it is nevertheless evident that very few Yongle-marked textile thangka are in private hands. Furthermore, between the two, the Mahakala is not nearly as well preserved as the Raktayamari. All seven are depicted in wrath form: six are tantric yidam, while one is a dharmapala (F). This is an interesting point. Although it is not possible to deduce any meaningful conclusions from so few samples, it is unlikely to be a coincidence that these wrath-form deities have been chosen as subjects for these important thangka.

The current Raktayamari (G) is an embroidered work. The main image is well preserved, while the original mount is now lost. At the centre of the image are Raktayamari and his consort. Raktayamari is an important deity of Anuttarayoga-Tantra in Vajrayana Buddhism, and one of the three Yamari forms of Bodhisattva Manjusri (the other two being Vajrabhairava and Krishna-Yamari) revered by various Tibetan sects. Raktayamari has a unique association with Amitabha Buddha, hence its red-coloured body, signifying a boon of longevity.

Raktayamari's body is embroidered in red silk for its principal colour, while his consort Vajravetali is depicted in a paler red tone. He stands with left leg bent on the Hindu god of death, Yama. Yama is depicted in dark blue, lying facedown on the back of a buffalo, and above a lotus pedestal with multicoloured petals. The thangka has a green ground decorated with dense Indian-lotus scrolls in a darker green, contrasting with the red deities and the flame scrolls around them.

Above the deity is a row of seven figures. In the centre is Vairocana Buddha, whose hands perform a unique mudra (fig. 2). They are raised in front of his chest, with palms facing outward. The middle and ring fingers are bent to meet the thumbs, with the hands touching each other, as if teaching. This mudra is not very common, and has not yet been identified. Vairocana Buddha normally performs bodhasri mudra or dharmachakra mudra. The current mudra resembles dharmachakra mudra, but the finger positions are clearly different. In Mizha jin'gangman gefa zhuzun xiangmUkDLnpublished in the Republic period, the 23rd Vairocana Buddha performs a similar mudra, without the two outward-facing hands touching. In Dictionary of Buddhist Iconography2 , an example of this Buddha from a Nepalese manuscript is listed as Shakyasimha Vairocana, a yidam in the Sarvadurgati Mandalas of Yoga-Tantra, and his mudra is listed as dharmachakra mudra(fig. 3). This rare instance of the unusual mudra being depicted on a Nepalese manuscript, which bears remarkable resemblance to that on the thangka, leads us to conclude that the mudra on the current thangka is a variation of dharmachakra mudra. However, this raises other questions, as the current thangka depicts Raktayamari, a principal deity of Anuttarayoga-Tantra (as opposed to Yoga-Tantra). The date of the Nepalese manuscript is unknown, but probably not earlier than the thangka, therefore, as a later secondary source, it does not shine any light as to the origin and transmission of this mudra.

To the left of Vairocana Buddha is Akshobhya Buddha in blue, and Ratnasambhava in yellow. To the right is Amitabha in red, and Amoghasidhi Buddha in green. These are the Buddha of Five Directions, who are often appear in Vajrayana Buddhist ceremonies as the protectors of the universe, and whose powers are used to initiate practitioners. They are also the symbol of the Buddhist world view and its omnipresent power, often depicted in Vajrayana imageries.

To the far right is Bodhisattva Manjusri in yellow, and the far left Heruka Vajrabhairava. Ratkayamari is a wrath-form manifestation of Bodhisattva Manjusri, and Heruka Vajrabhairava is a variation of Vajrabhairava, another wrath-form of Bodhisattva Manjusri. These two are closely related in Tibetan Buddhism, hence Vajrabhairava always appear alongside Yamari-type deities.

Below this row of deities are two Taras - Green Tara on the left, and White Tara on the right. The White Tara is also called the Seven-eyed Tara, since she normally has one eye on each of her palms and her feet, in addition to the three eyes on her face. However, only two eyes are depicted here.

Below the lotus pedestal are seven dancing goddesses in various stances bearing offerings. Traditionally there are eight offerings for a Buddhist hall - drinking water; water for washing; incense; flowers; oil lamp; perfumed water; food; and music. The seven offering goddesses depicted here are the representations of seven of these offerings, with the music (often depicted as a musical instrument) absent. These figures are found on other Yongle imperial thangka, with very uniform depictions of poses, offerings and appearances, such as those on the two examples in the Jokhang Temple (B and C, figs. 4 & 5) and the Mahakala (F, fig. 6). Other examples of these figures are seen on fragments in several museum collections in the West3. There is an embroidered thangka of Vajrabhairava in the Metropolitan Museum of Art4 with several characteristics comparable to other Imperial Ming thangka, and can be dated to the early Ming period. On its lower trapezoidal panel are a complete set of eight dancing goddesses, the second on the left holding a pipa being the goddess of music. It is possible, therefore, that other Imperial Ming thangka exist featuring all eight offering goddesses.

The placement of these dancing goddesses on the lower register of a thangka seems to appear on examples produced either in China proper or in areas that border China and Tibet, so it is almost certainly a Chinese influence. As early as in the Xixia period (1032-1227), there are thangka painted with three, five or six goddesses with liberal combinations of offerings5. These are the earliest known examples of this placement. The mid-fifteenth century mural of Vaisravana on the south wall of the main hall in the Gonggar Choide Monastery in Shannan, Tibet, also has a row of six dancing goddesses below (fig. 7). The murals of this monastery are the earliest and archetypal examples of the Kyentse school, one of the two major schools of Tibetan paintings. The Kyentse school is known for its elegant and delicate style, borrowing heavily on Chinese elements, these dancing goddesses being one such example.

The composition of the current thangka is closest to that of the Chakrasamvara thangka in the Jokhang Temple (B, fig. 4). Not only are the craftsmanship, the use of colour, the pictorial arrangements and their sizes all well matched, the rows of deities above are very similar - both with the Buddha of Five Directions in the middle, who perform the same mudra and have identical appearances. Furthermore, the borders around both thangka are similarly decorated with vajra alternating with jewels. The Vajrabhairava (C, fig. 5) in the Jokhang Temple obviously did not come from the same set when compared to these two thangka. Although the craftsmanship is very similar, the arrangement of deities on the upper row is very different. It was probably made around the same time in the same workshop, but was gifted separately.

To extrapolate further, both the Chakrasamvara and Raktayamari are Tantric yidam of Anuttarayoga-Tantra, and the combination of these two thangka gives us an important clue. The Yongle Emperor probably gifted a set of these thangka to a certain abbot or monastery, perhaps including also other thangka of yidam such as Guhyasamaja-Vajra or Hevajra, which have yet to be discovered.

Although the current thangka faithfully adheres to the iconography of Tibetan Buddhism, the author has already touched upon its overriding imperial characteristics and its amalgamation of Chinese and Tibetan styles.

The technical details on the current thangka, from the quality of the material to the supremely skillful embroidery, all indicate a Ming court production made in an Imperial silk manufacture centre in Jiang'nan. After more than five hundred years, its silk still retains its lustre and suppleness, as if the thangka were newly finished. Its vibrant colours and regal splendour have not diminished even slightly. Apart from the dancing goddesses discussed in detail above, which could have been a Chinese or court influence, the use of flame scrolls against a predominantly green ground is an attempt by the Ming court artists to dilute the austere religious sentiment in classical Nepalese art. These flame scrolls could be traced back to the Yuan period or earlier. They can be seen on the mural of Vaisravana in the Shalu Monastery in Tibet, dated to the Yuan period, and the murals in the Dharmapala Hall of Gonggar Choide Monastery, dated to the Ming period. They can also be seen on several paintings of Jambhala excavated in Heishuicheng, dated to the Xixia period. These obviously reflect Chinese influence, and in the Ming period have been assimilated into the repertoire of elements on Tibetan-style pieces. The Yongle embroidery thangka have further demonstrated the Chinese influences on these pieces.

The Nepalese-Tibetan characteristics manifest in the highlights on the torsos and limbs of Raktayamari and Vajravetali to denote musculature, and the dense dark green Indian lotus scrolls on the background as well as the red Indian lotus scrolls in the mandorla are some of the most common motifs in Nepalese-Tibetan paintings or sculptures. The multicoloured petals on the lotus pedestals and the arrangements of subsidiary deities in rectangular blocks are all typical of fifteenth century Tibetan art. The Raktayamari is stout and robust, with the upper body proportionally longer than the lower body. Its rotund appearance is a notable characteristic of figures in classical Tibetan art.

II Embroidery thangka as gifts from the Ming Court to Tibet

In the Early Ming period, the court policy towards Tibet was one of mollification. A feudal system was established in order to give religious leaders of various sects their autonomy. It is within this context that the Ming court bestowed the three titles of Dharma King (kfawang) and five of Prince (wang) to some of the most celebrated religious leaders in Tibet at the time6. The three Dharma Kings created in the early Ming period - The Great Precious Dharma King (j_kdabao fawang) Deshin Shekpa of the Kagyu sect; The Great Benevolent Dharma King (jOkdaci fawang) Shakya Yeshe of the Gelug sect a close disciple of Tsongkhapa, and The Dharma King of the Great Vehicle (jkdasheng fawang) Kunga Tashi of the Sakya sect - were amongst the most venerated, to whom the largest quantity of the finest gifts were destined. The author will discuss Deshin Shekpa and Sakya Yeshe as examples to illustrate the gifting of Imperial thangka in the Ming period.

Young Deshin Shekpa (1384-1415) was identified as the reincarnation of the 4th Karmapa, Rolpai Dorje (1340-1383), and succeeded him as the 5th Karmapa. In 1403, shortly after ascending the throne, the Yongle Emperor learned of his reputation as an enlightened guru and sent the eunuch Hou Xian as envoy to invite him to court. He arrived in Nanjing in 1407, where he was welcomed sumptuously by the Imperial family, minsters, monks and the general public. He held posthumous Buddhist ceremonies for the deceased Hongwu Emperor and his empress both in the Linggu Temple in Nanjing and in Wutaishan in Shanxi. A number of miraculous occurrences were reported, prompting the Emperor to bestow him the title of The Great Precious Dharma King, accompanied by a seal, a decree, gold and silver coins, gold brocade and pearl-embroidered robes, gold and silver vessels and caparisoned horses. A gold-trimmed black hat was awarded especially to be passed down as heirloom so that throughout the Ming Dynasty, all the Karmapa Lama who wore the black hat inherited the title The Great Precious Dharma King. This title was once given to Phags-pa of the Sakya sect by Kublai Khan in the Yuan dynasty as the symbol of the ultimate religious status. The Great Precious Dharma King of the Kagyu sect therefore, equally by tradition, has a higher status then the other two Dharma Kings, and was the most important religious leader at the time. Although there were countless gifts from the Yongle Emperor to Deshin Shekpa, there were no textile thangka recorded amongst them7. Official documents from the Chinese court were equally vague on the subject. However, some clues were found in a significant document that was discovered recently.

In 1990, the biography of an important Tibetan monk Paldan Tashi (1377- c. 1452) was discovered in Min County () of Gansu province. It documented a series of events relating to the Imperial patronage of Tibetan Buddhism in Nanjing and Beijing as witnessed by a Tibetan guru. He was a native of Min but travelled widely over Tibet, where he became acquainted with several religious leaders. By the Yongle emperor's decree he accompanied Deshin Shekpa to Nanjing and was instrumental in facilitating the spreading of Tibetan Buddhism in China8. He witnessed some of the most significant diplomatic affairs between China and Tibet during his time of service to several Ming emperors. Nevertheless, there were hardly any records of embroidered thangka from the emperor to Tibet, apart from one: in 1411 he transported gifts such as gilt bronze figures, paintings, kesi and embroidered 'Buddhist imageries' to Tibet by the emperor's decree, to be given to Deshin Shekpa9.

Similarly, documentation is fairly scarce in the case of Shakya Yeshe. Shakya Yeshe was a close disciple of Tsongkhapa. He was ordered to go to Nanjing in 1414, where he was awarded the title 'Great State Teacher' (Daguoshi) and did not return to Tibet until fourteen years later. He then returned to Beijing on two separate occasions, in 1430 and 1434, and on the latter trip had the title The Great Benevolent Dharma King bestowed upon him by the Xuande Emperor.

Lhagpa Phuntshogs conducted a comprehensive survey of Shakya Yeshe's biographical texts amongst Tibetan textual sources in 2012. Although there were hardly any records regarding textile thangka amongst his findings, there is some information worthy of note. In 1416, when Shakya Yeshe returned to Tibet, he brought with him Imperial gifts for his guru Tsongkhapa, amongst which were embroidered images of the Sixteen Arhats. These thangka were later stored in the Sera Temple, which he built. When he passed away on his return journey from Beijing to Tibet in 1435, his disciples Amogha and Sonam Sherab donated a set of Eighteen Arhats to the Ganden Monastery, which later became the main focus of the yearly Silk Thangka Festival10.

The paucity of documentary records is evident compared to the actual number of textile examples known. According to Lhagpa Phuntshogs' research, the kesi thangka portrait of Shakya Yeshe (fig. 8), now preserved in Norbulingka is on a par in quality with other Imperial thangka, and was commissioned after 1434. It bears a Tibetan inscription on the lower border, stating that the thangka was presented to him by his disciples Amogha and Sonam Sherab11. It is possible, therefore, that there are a number of textile thangka that do not bear Yongle or Xuande reign marks, and were not commissioned by the court, but by Tibetan monks who were stationed in Beijing. Even though this is not in the scope of the current discussion it is a point worthy of our attention.

The current thangka was given by the Chogyal of Sikkim to his English friend in the 1940s. Sikkim is traditionally aligned with Nyingma and Kagyu sects, without much association with the Gelug sect. The 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje was invited by the King of Sikkim to build three monasteries in Sikkim in the late 16th century, one of which, the Rumtek Monastery, is now the seat of the current Karmapa. The Nyingma sect did not have a close relation with the Ming court, so it is unlikely that such an important thangka was a gift to have been passed through this sect. Therefore, it is highly likely that the current thangka was brought to Sikkim by the Kagyu sect, which would mean that it was a present by the Yongle Emperor to Deshin Shekpa, the most important religious leader of Tibetan Buddhism at the time.

Bibliography

1.Mizha jin'gangman gefa zhuzun xiang mUkDLn(Deities of various disciplines in Mitravajravala), in Ze Yi (ed.), Zhongguo zangmi baodianmK_n, Beijing: Minzu Chubanshe, 2001, vol. 6, p. 55.

2.Lokesh Chandra, New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture and Aditua Prakashan, 2004, vol. 13, p. 3811.

3.Valrae Reynolds, 'Buddhist Silk Textiles: Evidence for Patronage and Ritual Practice in China and Tibet, Chinese and Central Asian Textiles', Orientations, 1997:4, pp. 60-61.

4.James C. Y. Watt , Anne E. Wardwell, When Silk was gold: Central Asian and Chinese Textiles, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. pp. 202-207, pl. 62, inventory no. 1993.15.

5.Ibid, p. 90-91, pl. 24: inventory no. 1992.72.

6.Hisashi Sato, Deng Yueling (tr.), 'Mingdai Xizang bada jiaowang kao'mNKjn, in Deng Ruiling, Den Ruiling Zangzushi lunwen yiwen jimHUvn, Beijing: Zhongguo zangxue chubanshe, 2004, p. 1005-069.

7.Deng Ruiling, 'Xianzhe xiyan, Ming Yongle shi shangshi Halima jinjing jishi qianzheng' mb,vn, ibid, pp. 164185.

8.Jia Weiwei, 'Dazhifawang Bandan Dashi Beijing huodong ji xiangguan shishi zaikao: yi Xitian fozi yuanliulu wei jumjkZZ_vAGHlyn, in Shen Weirong (ed.), Wenben zhong de lishi: Zangchuan fojiao zai Xiyu he Zhongyuan de chuanbomvGbMn, Beijing: Zhongguo zangxue chubanshe, 2012 pp.573598.

9.Luo Zhao, Zhang Runping, Su Hang (eds.), 'Xitian fozi yuan liu lu' - Wenxian yu chubu yanjiu, Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, Beijing, 2012, p.165). mlymPBsn.

10.Lhagpa Phuntshogs, Daci Fawang Shijia Yeshi jOk{], Beijing: Zhongguo zangxue chubanshe, 2012, pp. 81, 89, 105, 123, 132, 134.

11.Tibet Museum, Beijing: Zhonguo dabaike quanshu chubanshe, 2007, p. 40 -41, fig. 3.

Rakta Yamari: An Introduction

Jeff Watt

Rakta Yamari is a Meditational deity that belongs to the Vajrayana Tradition of Mahayana Buddhism. Vajrayana is based on the Tantra literature of India. A meditational deity is not necessarily a real entity, person or god. Within Vajrayana Buddhism, in most cases, a deity is a construct, an invention, a created object for meditation. Symbolism plays an important role and each meditational deity is associated with a specific metaphor. The metaphor for Rakta Yamari is 'death.' The name means the 'Red Killer of Death.' In this symbolic meaning the idea of death refers directly to the suffering and unhappiness in the world as described in Buddhist philosophy. The general appearance of the deity, number of faces, arms, ornaments, decorations and attributes are all part of a mnemonic device (memory system) that incorporates the most essential of Buddhist principles and core teachings into a single object. The Indian source text for the teachings of Yamari is the Rakta Yamari Tantra Raja Nama (raktayamari-tantraraja-nama. gshin rje'i gshed dmar po zhes bya ba'i rgyud kyi rgyal po [TBRC w25383]). The original text has nineteen chapters. In the 14th century a second Indian text with twenty-two chapters appeared in Tibet in the possession of a scholar named Kunpang Chodrag Pal Zangpo. This version of the text was taught to the great abbot of Shalu Monastery Buton Rinchen Drub (1290-1364). Both texts still exist today and both are considered authoritative.

Rakta Yamari is grouped within a larger set of three deities in total. The other two are Vajrabhairava and Krishna Yamari. All three employ the metaphor of death and are linked to the bodhisattva Manjusri - a figure originally popularized in the Mahayana Sutras. The origin of Rakta Yamari is shrouded. There does not appear to be any origin myth in the source literature. Possibly there will be secondary Sanskrit literature that will offer more information in the future. Late Tibetan sources, such as Jamgon Amezhab (1597-1659) state that Rakta Yamari was an emanation body created by Shakyamuni Buddha for subduing the Four Maras during an episode from the Buddha's own life story. The Buddha then entrusted the practices to the bodhisattva Vajrapani. This information can be found in the 'History of the Two Yamaris and Bhairava' by Jamgon Amezhab.

The Rakta form of Yamari was the last of the three Yamari/Bhairava meditational deities to arrive in the Himalayan regions in approximately the 13th century. From the Indian tradition there were a number of well known teachers associated with the red form of Yamari. The most prominent were the mahasiddhas Shridhara, Virupa and Dombi Heruka. The siddhas are difficult to date but are generally placed somewhere between the 8th and 9th centuries. Subsequent to that, several famous Tibetan translators were responsible for introducing the practice of Rakta Yamari to Tibet. Chag Lotsawa (1197-1264, chag lo tsA ba chos rje dpal), a colleague of Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251), translated a number of important Indian Sanskrit texts on Yamari into Tibetan. He was also the principal translator for the Vajravali cycle of mandalas composed by the Indian scholar Abhayakara Gupta (d.1125). This latter text, a compendium of practices, was important because it also contained a very popular version of the Rakta Yamari with a description of the mandala and initiation ritual.

Within the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism the lineages of teachers extending back to India were always considered of paramount importance because they directly indicate legitimacy, orthodoxy and authority. However, after reviewing over a dozen different lineages of teachers of the Rakta Yamari tradition it appears that there were many inconsistencies with the chronology as well as the spellings for names. It seems likely that there were also confusions between the Sanskrit and Prakrit language spellings leading to mistaken attributions. It is probably best to look on the traditional lineages of teachers as suggestions rather than definitive and final. Two examples of the Rakta Yamari lineage are given below:

Rakta Yamari Thirteen Deity Mandala Lineage: Bhagavan Yamari, Acharya Brahmin Paldzin, Virupa, Dombi Heruka, Biratipa, Gambhiramati, Nishkalamka, Deva Revandra, Prabhawa, Lama Gewai Shenyen, Dorje Dzinpa Chenpo, Lowo Lotsawa, Lama Chokyi Gyalpo, etc.

Rakta Yamari Five Deity Mandala Lineage: Manjusri Yamari, Jnana Dakini, Acharya Virupa, Dombipa, Baritipa, Mati Garbha, Gambhira Mati, Nishkalamke Devi, Chal Lotsawa, Lord of Yoga Gvalo, Lama Chokyi Gyalpo (Chogyal Pagpa 1235-1280), etc.

Chogyal Pagpa Lodro Gyaltsen (1235-1280), a student of both Sakya Pandita and Chag Lotsawa, popularized the practice of Rakta Yamari at the Chinese court in the reign of the Kublai Khan during the Yuan dynasty, when the Mongols ruled China. He wrote a number of Yamari meditation practice manuals for Mongolian princes giving both the names and the date of authorship in each colophon. Following that, less than fifty years later the abbot of Shalu Buton Rinchen Drub granted the initiation of Rakta Yamari to Lama Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen (1312-1375), a great nephew of Chogyal Pagpa. Sonam Gyaltsen in turn passed it on to an abbot of Nartang Monastery. From there the initiation was given to Je Tsongkapa Lobzang Dragpa (1357-1419) the founder of the Gelug Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. From Tsongkapa a great number of teachings and initiations were passed down to Jamchen Choje Shakya Yeshe (1354-1435), a principal student, and later the founder of Sera Monastery in 1419.

In the early 1400s the Yongle Emperor sent many letters to Tsongkapa inviting him to China. Tsongkapa always declined but finally agreed to send in his place the eminent scholar Jamchen Choje Shakya Yeshe. In 1408 Shakya Yeshe departed for China and after a long journey with many stops along the way he arrived at the court of the emperor. Shakya Yeshe remained in China until 1418 teaching all manner of Buddhist subjects and bestowing many types of Tantric initiation. The Yongle emperor was not exclusive but rather eclectic when inviting religious teachers. He enjoyed the company of notables such as the 5th Karmapa and the Sakya Trizin - throne holder of Sakya. Gifts were always exchanged between the emperor and his guests and many examples from centuries past can still be seen both in Tibet and China today. The finest examples of those gifts have generally been sculpture metal work and textile hangings, either embroidery or loom woven textiles.

The Rakta Yamari embroidered textile displayed here is a fine example of both art and religious iconography. The majority of the work is true to the textual descriptions found in the classic sources. Some small details have been re-interpreted by the master artist for the sake of appearance or colour compatibility.

At the center of the composition is Rakta Yamari. He is described in ritual texts as "... Bhagavan Krodha Yamari with a body red in colour, one face and two hands. The right hand holds aloft a white stick marked with a fresh yellow head. The left holds a blood filled skullcup embracing the Vidya of natural light [the consort Vajra Vetali]; mouth with bared fangs and tongue curled, possessing three round red eyes, yellow moustache, eyebrows and hair flowing upward, wearing a lower garment of tiger skin, adorned with the eight great nagas and a necklace of half a hundred dripping heads and a crown of five dry skulls. Frightful with the resources of a 'yamari' standing above a red buffalo in a manner with the right leg bent and left straight in the middle of a blazing fire of pristine awareness." (Composed by Thartse Panchen Namka Palzang, 18th century).

The traditional description is quite brief and falls short of describing some of the more obvious and interesting subtle elements of the Rakta Yamari image. Slightly above the crown of the head is a very small depiction of the Buddha Vajrasattva, white in colour, holding a vajra sceptre to the heart with the right hand and the left hand in dhyani mudra around the waist. Held upraised in the right hand is an eight sided staff decorated with a freshly severed head, a decomposing head and a white skull. The staff is adorned at the top and bottom with a half vajra sceptre symbol. Eight types of snakes adorn the body from the top of the head to the ears, long necklace, short necklace, belt, armlets, bracelets and anklets. Under the feet of Yamari is the blue coloured body of Yama, the Lord of Death. He holds a staff in the right hand and a lasso in the left. Very few of the Sanskrit and Tibetan texts describe the form of Yama under the feet of Yamari. It is however relatively common in painting and sculpture.

The entire form of Yamari, along with all of the attributes, are understood as both an object of meditation and as a mnemonic device. The one face represents the embodiment of the wisdom of all Buddhas as having one taste, or flavour, ultimate truth. The red body colour represents the desire to overcome all maras and place all beings in the state of enlightenment. The staff subdues the afflictions, maras. The left hand holds a skullcup containing the essence of the four maras transformed. The four bared fangs are fearlessness over the four maras - the causes for delaying enlightenment: klesha mara, skandha mara, devaputra mara and mrtya mara. The three round eyes express compassion for all beings in the three times of past, present and future as well as the three watches of the day and three watches of the night. The orange and red hair is to symbolize the increasing qualities of the Buddha and the aspects of the Five Paths of Seeing, Meditation, etc. (the Mahayana Five Paths). The crown of five dry skulls symbolizes the five poisons transformed into the five wisdoms. The necklace of fifty fresh heads represents the vowels and consonants of the Sanskrit language. The eight snakes represent the Eight Great Nagas: Vasuki, Hulunta, Padma, Mahapadma, Karkota, Kulika, Takshaka and Shankhapala. They represent the subjugation of various obstacles and the accomplishment of skillful activities. The lower garment of tiger skin gives fright to those with a violent disposition. The right leg bent represents the true nature of reality. The left straight represents compassion for all beings. The flat sun and moon discs under the reclining buffalo represent the wishing and entering enlightenment thoughts. The surrounding fire represents a non-conceptual wisdom arising from a mind of pristine awareness. Every aspect of the form of Yamari and the consort Vajra Vetali have symbolic and coded meaning.

Based on the iconography alone, it is not possible to identify this figure of Yamari with a particular mandala configuration or Tibetan lineage tradition. There are four principal ways that Yamari appears in art and is practised as a meditation or ritual. The first form has Yamari embracing the consort without any attendants or other deities in the mandala arrangement. The second is Yamari and consort with four surrounding deities embracing a consort. There are actually ten deities in total but they are always referred to as a five deity mandala. Following that, there is a nine and a thirteen deity mandala.

In the top register of the Yamari textile there are seven figures. At the far left side is Heruka Vajrabhairava with one face and two hands. He is male and has a buffalo head with two horns and a gaping mouth. In the proper right and left hands he holds a curved flaying knife and a skullcup, standing atop a buffalo. Proceeding from left to right the next five figures are the Five Symbolic Buddhas of Tantric Buddhism: yellow Ratnasambhava, blue Akshobhya, white Vairochana, red Amitabha and green Amoghasiddhi. Aside from the body colours and hand gestures they all appear identical in ornamentation and posture. At the far right side is the bodhisattva Manjusri with one face and two hands, orange in colour, performing the gesture of teaching. Manjusri also holds with the fingers the stems of two flower blossoms that support the two attributes of a sword and book.

Below the row of figures in the register on the left side is the figure of the female Buddha known as Tara, green in colour, with one face and two hands, seated in a relaxed posture. On the right side is a similar figure, white in colour, with the legs folded in the vajra posture. The hand gestures and attributes are the same as the Tara on the left side of the composition. In all likelihood, this is White Tara, another form of the deity used specifically for longevity rituals. The identification for this figure is not completely certain as there are missing attributes that are common for White Tara but missing from this depiction.

Along the bottom of the composition are seven dancing female figures each holding aloft a specific offering substance. The seven are the more commonly known of the Eight Offering Goddesses. Starting from the left is white Arghuam, green Padya, white Pushpe, blue Dupe, red aloke, green Gandhe, and yellow Naivedye. The substances they hold are a white conch with water for drinking, again a white conch with water for washing, a bowl of flowers, a bowl of incense, a lamp with flickering flames, a white conch with scented water and finally a bowl of food (peaches). The eighth and final (omitted) offering goddess would be Shapda and she typically holds a musical instrument. Each of the goddesses hold their own offering up with one hand while performing a dance gesture with the other hand, all the while standing in a dance posture with either the right or left leg raised.

The textile of Yamari follows very closely in style and size to three other known works, two in Tibet and one in a private collection. All four works appear to be from the same Imperial workshop and the same time period. The top registers for two of the other textiles are slightly different in number and size of figures. The lower registers of each are almost identical between the four. The central subjects of the other three works are Vajrabhairava, Chakrasamvara and Panjarnatha Mahakala. Based on composition and uniformity the Rakta Yamari under discussion and the Chakrasamvara are the closest in style and iconographic program. The two might have even constituted part of a set of compositions. The Vajrabhairava follows next in uniformity although having a top register with many more figures than the Yamari and Chakrasamvara examples. The Vajrabhairava composition follows completely a Gelug iconographic program that is not followed by the Sakya or Kagyu Traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. The Panjarnatha Mahakala textile follows a uniquely Sakya iconograhic program. Based on this brief analysis and the textual documentation of important religious visitors from Tibet to the the Imperial court, it is most probable that the first three textiles were created as gifts for the Gelug Scholar Shakya Yeshe and the Mahakala textile for a religious dignitary of the Sakya Tradition.

Bibliography

Amezhab, Jamgon. dpal gshin rje gshed dmar nag 'jigs gsum gyi dam pa'i chos byung ba'i tshul legs par bshad pa zab yangs chos sgo 'byed pa'i rin po che'i lde mig dgos 'dod kun 'byung zhes bya ba bzhugs so.

Henss, Michael. 'The Woven Image: Tibeto-Chinese Textile Thangkas of the Yuan and Early Ming Dynatsies', Orientations, November 1997.

Himalayan Art Resources. Rakta Yamari Main Page. http://www.himalayanart.org/search/set.cfm?setID=349. Jeff Watt, 2-2005.

Himalayan Art Resources. Rakta Yamari Textile. HAR #57041. http://www.himalayanart.org/image.cfm/57041.html.

Raktayamari-tantraraja-nama. Gshin rje'i gshed dmar po zhes bya ba'i rgyud kyi rgyal po [TBRC w25383, w25384].

Reynolds, Valrae, 'Buddhist Silk Textiles: Evidence for Patronage and Ritual Practice in China and Tibet.' Orientations, April 1997.

George Roerich (trans.), Biography of Dharmasvamin, A Tibetan Monk Pilgrim. Patna: K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, 1959.

George Roerich (trans.), The Blue Annals. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1996, 2nd ed.

An examination of the Ming-dynasty Yongle-marked 'Raktayamari' thangka from its technical aspects

Zhang Qiong, Researcher, Palace Museum, Beijing

Thangka is a transliteration word from the Tibetan language, meaning a scroll painting. Thangka have a long history, and it has been suggested that their origins can be traced back to as early as the Tubo dynasty in the 7th century AD. Based on the different techniques and materials, thangka can be categorised into two main types. The first is Guo Tang, meaning silk thangka in Tibetan, which can be further divided into five categories according to the types of production techniques: appliqu?, embroidery, kesi, brocade and blockprints. The second is Zhi Tang, meaning painted thangka in Tibetan, which can also be divided into five categories according to the types of pigments and background colours: thangka painted in coloured pigments, with gold-ground, cinnabar-red ground, black-ground, and blockprints on paper or cloth.

The oldest extant thangka dates to the early period of the second propagation of Buddhism in Tibet during the 11th century AD. Extant thangka made prior to the 15th century are extremely rare, as the majority of the extant examples date to the 17th or 18th century. The present Yongle-marked embroidered 'Raktayamari' thangka is one of the earliest known thangka bearing a date, making it an exceptionally rare example.

The 'Raktayamari' thangka measures 336 cm. in length and 214 cm. in width, and it is embroidered on a greyish-green jiang chou silk ground with an image of Raktayamari in yab-yum embracing his consort Vajravetali and standing on the blue corpse of Yama, the lord of death. Jiang chou is a special type of chou fabric, characterised by paired Z-spun warps, with two warp threads above one weft thread in one weave unit, creating a higher weft density and thereby a tauter and sturdier overall texture that is particularly suitable for a thangka of this magnificent scale, as the strength of the fabric would help support the heavy embroidery work.

A number of distinctive embroidery techniques have been used in accomplishing this masterpiece, one of the most prominent being the use of regular long and short stitches Mwto represent the human body and large solid areas of colours, creating an overall visual effect marked by horizontal striations that resemble fabrics with pile. This type of stitch is rarely used in embroidery to represent the human body; the more common type is irregular long and short stitch Mw, which gives rise to a flatter surface texture where gaps between ends of stitches are less revealed. Another distinctive feature of this thangka is the representation of muscles and highlights in concentric ovals rendered in gradual shades of the same colour (fig.1), a characteristic also shared by two other Yongle-marked thangka in the collection of Jokhang temple, Lhasa, one depicting Vajrabhairava, the other depicting Chakrasamvara. All three thangka are very similar in size and embroidery techniques, suggesting that they were probably made in the same location, as a result of a particular historical event, when these works were specially commissioned by the Ming court as gifts for the Tibetan temples. A thangka depicting Guhyasamaja housed in the Potala Palace, described as a Yuan-dynasty brocade in Tibetan Thangka (fig.2), also employs the same embroidery techniques as the three aforementioned works, and should also be considered as an embroidered thangka from the Ming dynasty.1

The thangka under discussion is embroidered on a greyish-green jiang chou ground in indigo silk threads with a pattern of Indian lotuses, all within outlines of couched gold-wrapped threads, giving rise to a highly textured surface rich in exquisiteness and resplendence. The flames are embroidered using regular long and short stitches and threads in five different colours: imperial yellow, white, pink, red and two-ply threads in red and blue, within borders of gold couched threads (fig.3), the gradation in the colours among the threads is subtle, aiding in the capture of the flickering quality of fire. A number of distinctive types of stitch can be identified when viewing this thangka in detail. For example, the eyes are picked out by couching, regular long and short stitches, and long and short stitches converging at motif centres (fig.4); the contours of the skulls are couched with laid threads of thick cores or/and of multiple-ply (fig.5); the white circular patterns are rendered in lasuo stitches (fig.6); and the garments adorning the offering goddesses are accentuated with additional embroidered diaper patterns (fig.7). The primary type of embroidery stitch used on this thangka is the regular long and short stitch and although not a complicated stitch, the overall effect achieved is meticulous and orderly, which is further enhanced by the use of other distinctive types of stitch to highlight particular details.

Another salient feature of this thangka is its colour palette. Placing the figure of red Raktayamari against a blue-green background creates a sharp red-green colour contrast, which coupled with the generous use of gold wrapped thread, presents a colourful and dazzling effect. The majority of the Qing thangka are set against a blue background and of an overall light and elegant palette, with regular long and short stitch being the predominant type of stitch employed, and the grounds often fully embroidered. In contrast, the present thangka abounds with colours, where more than fourteen colours have been used in the depiction of the loblanket alone, which is embroidered with lotuses in red, yellow, blue, green, pink and gold against a brilliant ground of red, with each petal gradually transitioning from dark to light in three shades of the same base colour, and supported on scrolls in pale green, all within borders of couched gold-wrapped thread (fig.8). Furthermore, the lotus base is constructed from four petals in colours of red, green, blue and gold in high saturation, where each petal is rendered in four shades of the same colour (fig.9), achieving a subtle and natural transition that demonstrates the wide spectrum of dye colours available during the early Ming period as a result of the sophisticated level of dyeing technology at that time. The textile dyeing technology advanced rapidly during the Ming dynasty, when an unprecedented number of colour shades were developed, as evinced by the current thangka.

Furthermore, this thangka demonstrates a remarkably high level of painting and embroidery skills, as attested by the precise design, fluid use of lines, and the successful capture of details such as the blazing flames, plump petals, and the seven graceful offering goddesses. Another remarkable aspect is that although this thangka was made almost six hundred years ago, the embroidery floss still exudes a lustrous sheen even to the present day, reflecting the exceptional quality of the silk which is a result of the outstanding silkworm rearing and silk reeling technology in the Jiangnan region during the early Ming period.

The location at which this thangka was manufactured, however, remains a mystery. The Jiangnan region became the centre of textile industry after the Song emperor Gaozong and his court retreated south and established the new capital in Hangzhou. The embroidery industry flourished in Hangzhou from Song through Ming and Qing dynasties, when the city was also the centre of silk embroidery floss production for the entire country. Hangzhou was also a sacred religious site that had close contacts with Tubo during the Yuan period.2 The Yuan government-owned textile workshops operated on a large scale and covered a vast expanse of territories, where a Directorate of Buddhist Textiles existed under the direction of Directorate-in-Chief of Civilian Artisans in Dadu (Beijing), which was in turn under the direction of the Bureau of Imperial Ateliers. There are however, only two government-owned embroidery workshops recorded in The History of Yuan - Biographies of Officials, one belonging to the Directorate-in-Chief of Civilian Artisans in Dadu, the other to the Directorate of Variety-of-Embroidery, which ran under the Directorate-in-Chief of Variety-of-Textiles directed by the Bureau of Imperial Atelier.3 The structure of the government-owned textile workshops underwent dramatic changes during the Ming dynasty, which were reflected in their number, variety, quality of the products, and scale of production, with the Jiangnan region becoming the most important production centre. In The History of Ming - Food and Merchandize 6 - Textile, chapter 2, it is recorded that 'an inner and an outer workshop of weaving and dyeing were set up in Beijing and Nanjing, to satisfy the needs of the court and the government, respectively. The Hall of Divine Silk and textile weaving factories were set up in Nanjing, while Suzhou, Hangzhou and other cities also had their own weaving and dyeing workshops.' During the Qing dynasty, all the government-owned facilities for textile production converged in the Jiangnan region, with Jiangning (Nanjing), Suzhou and Hangzhou each having their own textile bureau. According to the Records of Zaobanchu, all the imperial embroidered and kesi thangka were manufactured in the Suzhou Central Bureau of Textiles, as was recorded in juan 3623-3626, currently stored at the First Historical Archives in Beijing, 'on the 10th day of the 12th month in the 45th year of Qianlong, Vice-Director Wu De, Head of Staff Dadase, and Vice-Head of Staff Fulai presented three kesi thangka of Maitreya Buddha and three embroidered thangka of Maitreya Buddha from Suzhou. A decree was issued thus: 'Mount the scroll ends in silver; add silk backing when finished, take three scrolls to Jehol as gifts for Panchen Erdini, and keep the remaining three in chests at Yunzhenzhai.'

The Beijing Palace Museum houses a collection of over a thousand Tibetan and Chinese thangka dating to the 17th and 18th century, providing ample examples for studying thangka of this period and for comparing with the Ming examples in an attempt to identify their location of manufacture. When comparing the Qing embroidered examples to their Ming predecessors, obvious differences in style and technique are found. The Qing embroidered thangka were made in Suzhou, so if one postulates that the Ming thangka were made in Suzhou, then this inconsistency in style and technique seems rather puzzling. If one postulates that the Ming thangka were made in a location other than Suzhou such as Beijing or Hangzhou, then the fact that these two sites cease producing thangka during the Qing dynasty raises another question. As almost none of the archives from the Ming dynasty have remained, no literary evidence on the manufacture of thangka during the Ming period exists to elucidate this mystery.

On this thangka, the image of Raktayamari is embroidered in red against a green ground, with the Yongle presentation mark rendered by couched gold wrapped thread in a powerful and dignified style. From the materials to the embroidery, every aspect of this thangka was carefully chosen and executed with extreme precision and finesse, demonstrating a high level of expertise where no expense was spared in its making, and pointing its most probable manufacturer to the imperial workshop. Textile thangka belong to an independent category different from clothing that continues its development within its own framework, the technical origin of which may likely have some association with the illustrated 'woven imperial images' of the Yuan dynasty. The distribution of technology is usually contingent upon the migration of skilled craftsmen. The recent publication of a group of dated Yongle-marked textile thangka (in brocade, gold brocade and embroidery), is an invaluable resource for studying thangka of the Ming dynasty. 4 This essay also raises new questions for their future study.

Bibliography

1 Tibet Autonomous Region Cultural Relics Administration Committee (ed.), Tibetan Thangka, Beijing: Cultural Relics Press, 1985, pl. 85.

2 Xiu Bai, 'Yuandai Hangzhoude zangchuan mijiao jichi youguan yiji' NC{K, Wenwu, 1990, issue no. 10.

3Shang Gang, Art History of Arts and Crafts in Yuan Dynasty, Shenyang: Liaoling Education Press, 1999, pp. 106-107.

4 Luo Wenhua, 'A study of the embroidered Ming Yongle-marked Rakatayamari thangka', 2014, pp. in this catalogue.

PROPERTY FROM AN AMERICAN PRIVATE COLLECTION

keywords

15th Century, All other categories of objects, China, Ming dynasty (1368-1644)

exhibited

Heaven's Embroidered Cloths: One Thousand Years of Chinese Textiles, Urban Council Hong Kong and the Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong in association with the Liaoning Provincial Museum, June-September 1995, Catalogue, no. 25

Power and Glory: Court Arts of China's Ming Dynasty, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, June-September 2008, Indianapolis Museum of Art, October 2008-January 2009, St. Louis Art Museum, February-May 2009, pp. 66, 68-9, no. 29

department

CHINESE CERAMICS AND WORKS OF ART

dimensions

132 x 84 in. (335.3 x 213.4 cm.)

literature

Pratapaditya Pal, 'An Early Ming Embroidered Masterpiece', Christie's International Magazine, May/June 1994, pp. 62-63

Heavens' Embroidered Cloths: One Thousand Years of Chinese Textiles, jointly presented by the Urban Council, Hong Kong and the Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong in association with the Liaoning Provincial Museum; the Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong Urban Council, 1995, cat. no. 25

Valrae Reynolds, 'Buddhist Silk Textiles: Evidence for Patronage and Ritual Practice in China and Tibet',Orientations, April 1997, p. 58, fig. 8

Michael Henss, 'The Woven Image: Tibeto-Chinese Textile Thangkas of the Yuan and Early Ming Dynasties', Orientations, November 1997, p. 35

He Li, Michael Lee et al.,Power and Glory: Court Arts of China's Ming Dynasty, San Francisco: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and Choong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture, 2008, cat. no. 29, pp. 66, 68-69

provenance

Given by the Chogyal of Sikkim, Sir Tashi Namgyal to an English friend in the 1940s

The Property of a Lady, sold at Christie's London, 16 November 1977, lot 92

Sold to benefit the Jain Foundation for Art and Culture, Christie's New York, 2 June 1994, lot 225

The Property of a Gentleman, sold Christie's Hong Kong, 29 April 2002, lot 542


*Vänligen notera att att priset inte är omräknat till dagens värde, utan avser slutpriset vid tidpunkten när föremålet såldes.

*Vänligen notera att att priset inte är omräknat till dagens värde, utan avser slutpriset vid tidpunkten när föremålet såldes.


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