Loading Spinner

Lot 542: A HIGHLY IMPORTANT AND EXCEPTIONALLY LARGE IMPERIAL EMBROIDERED SILK THANKA

Christie's

April 29, 2002
Hong Kong, Hong Kong

More About this Item


Description

YONGLE SIX-CHARACTER PRESENTATION MARK AND OF THE PERIOD (1402-1424) Exquisitely embroidered in gold thread and brilliant coloured silk threads on leaf-green satin enriched with a regular pattern of dark green embroidered medallions of curled leafy scrolls outlined with gold thread, the central image is of the wrathful Raktayamari, depicted in tones of red, in yab-yum embracing his consort Vajraveltali, in pink tones, her left leg encircling his waist, his right hand welding 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, detailed with blue serpents coiled around his wrists and ankles and a garland of severed heads pendent from his waist, his face depicted with a ferocious aspect looking ahead at his consort with her head upturned, her left hand holding another kapala, both figures richly adorned with beaded jewellery chains, each of their crowns embellished with five skulls below a seated Amitabha, all densely embroidered with gold thread, dark blue scarves billowing in front of the aureole of flames rising behind the locked couple 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 Yama on the left and Manjusri, of whom Raktayamari is an emanation, on the right, flanking the five Dhyani Buddhas, Ratnasambhava, Akshobhya, Vairocana, Amitahba and Amoghasiddhi, the lower row with Green Tara on the left and White Tara on the right, a row of seven offering goddesses dancing on lotus bases and holding aloft dishes below the couple, the thanka bordered by a yellow-ground band of vajra, the presentation mark in a vertical band in gold thread on a red embroidered ground on the upper right beside the border and below the White Tara 132 x 84 in. (335.3 x 213.4 cm.) PROVENANCE Given by the Chogyal of Sikkim, Sir Tashi Namgyal to an English friend in the 1940's. The Jain Foundation for Art and Culture, sold in our New York Rooms, 2 June 1994, lot 225. LITERATURE Pratapaditya Pal, An Early Ming Embroidered Masterpiece, Christie's International Magazine, May/June 1994, pp. 62-63. Valrae Reynolds, 'Buddhist Silk Textiles: Evidence for Patronage and Ritual Practice in China and Tibet', Orientations, April 1997, p. 58, fig. 8. EXHIBITION 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. NOTES The main figure depicted is Raktayamari, the Red Conqueror of Death and the red form of Majusri as Yamantaka who vanquished Yama, the God 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, 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 the image of a Buddha. Surmounting the thangka are a two-armed Yama, left (fig. 3) and Manjusri the God of Wisdom, right (fig. 9), 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 (fig. 4), the blue Akshobhya (fig. 5), the white Vairocana (fig. 6), the red Amitabha (fig. 7), and the green Amoghasiddhi (fig. 8). Below them are Green Tara, left (fig. 2), and White Tara, right (fig. 1). Seven dancing goddesses, carrying various offerings, are shown below the main deities. This extraordinary thanka is identified to be from the same group as 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 arrangements of the two other Jokhang thankas are very similar to the present example, with the main subject-matter below two rows of smaller figures along the top and a row of seven offering goddesses on the bottom. The first of these depict Vajrabhairava (fig. 1), a manifestation of Manjusri; the other is of Chakrasamvara with his consort (fig. 2), his body blue and hers red, in front of a flaming aureole. All three share similar characteristics in size, form, subject, material and presentation mark. 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 1360-1364; and the fifth Karmapa, to whom the Yongle emperor (1403-1424) presented a characteristically shaped hat, visited between 1405-1409. For a 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, The Dayton Art Institute, Ohio, 1989, p. 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 Thangkas 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 endowed upon him with imperial favours. The Emperor also ordered for the miracles performed by the Karmapa to be recorded on a silk scroll, which was sent back to Tsurphu monastery in Tibet, where it was seen by the Tibetologist H. E. Richardson in the 1940's. Other Imperial commissions in honour of this guru included gilt-bronzes, rolls of silk and several embroidered images which were especially prized by both Chinese and Tibetans for their beauty and technical fineness. It is likely that the present lot is one such presentation gift, Pratapaditya Pal, op. cit., p. 62-63. The present banner 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 recorded that one of the initiations given by the Karmapa to Yongle was that of Raktayamari, the subject of the present lot, and it follows that the emperor might well have commissioned a thanka depicting the deity to commemorate the occasion. The knowledge that the thanka came to the West from Sikkim, where the Chogyal, Sir Tashi Namgyal, presented it to an English friend in the 1940's is not surprising. Sikkim has had close ties to the Kagyupa lineage ever since the 16th century when the ninth Karmapa (1556-1603) was invited to found a monastery there. An embroidered thanka of the same period, but smaller in size to the present lot, is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and depicts the nine-headed Yamantaka (an emanation of Manjusri), trampling on human, animals, birds, demigods and demons below the Bodhisattva of wisdom, Manjusri, depicted at the top left hand corner of the thanka . The Metropolitan thanka, dated to early 15th century, is illustrated by J. Watt, Bulletin, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fall, 1993, pp. 86-87; where it records "the fineness of the silk floss, achieve chiaroscuro and textural effects", qualities which are equally relevant to the present banner. Also similar is the use of gilt-paper strips and gilt-paper-wound thread. Compare two fragments from embroideries possibly similar in size and composition, included in the Plum Blossoms (Int'l) Ltd., Hong Kong and Uragami Sokyu-do Co. Ltd., Tokyo, 1988, sale and exhibition, Chinese Textile Masterpieces: Sung, Yuan and Ming Dynasties, illustrated in the Catalogue, pp. 44-47, nos. 19 and 20. Respectively, the first of the fragments is of a standing figure holding aloft a bowl of curds, depicted in a pose similar to the dancing figures found on the bottom row of the present lot; the other is of a seated monk or deity, of similar size and posture, to the seated figures in two rows along the top. The former cited fragment is from the same embroidery workshop as another in the Cleveland Museum of Art, depicting a celestial musician, illustrated by A. Wardwell, 'Important Asian Textiles Recently Acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art', Oriental Art, Winter, 1992/3, vol. XXXVIII, no. 4, p. 250, fig. 8, where it is dated to late 14th to early 15th century. Wardell also mentions an embroidered thanka in the museum's collection, depicting a Bodhisattva seated on a lotus base, a part of a set of sixteen thanka, each representing one of the sixteen Bodhisattvas. The sophistication and beauty of its design and the exceptional quality of its technique is cited in placing its origin in a major textile producing centre such as Beijing or Hangzhou, Wardell, op. cit., p. 250-1, fig. 9. Henss also intimates that the Jokhang tapestries, including the present Raktayamari, could possibly have been manufactured in Hangzhou, Henss, op. cit., p. 35. Also compare the large woven silk thanka, of almost the same size, bearing a Yongle mark in a vertical line on the top right hand corner, depicting Mahakala trampling a figure prostrate on a lotus base, the figure backed by a flaming aureole below the two rows of deities and above seven dancing figures holding offerings, included by Messrs Spink & Son Ltd., London, in the exhibition, The Art of Textiles, 1989, illustrated in the Catalogue, p. 26, no. 23, where the entry notes confirms the Yongle dating by carbon 14 testing. A large kesi mandala in the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a figure of Raktayamari and consort at the bottom right is datable to 1328 through the portrait of the Yuan emperor Wenzong (1328-32) at the bottom left hand corner, and is illustrated in Bulletin, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fall, 1992, pp. 84-85. An earlier, smaller kesi thanka in the collection of Dr. Wesley and Mrs Carolyn Halpert, depicting Cakrasamvara and Vajrvarahi on a double lotus base in front of a flaming aureole is datable to 1308 or 1360-1364, by the hat worn by the Karmapa depicted on the top right hand corner. It is a type worn earlier by the third or fourth Karmapa, but not the fifth, to whom Yongle presented a hat of a different design; see S.L. and J. C. Huntington, op. cit., no. 125, pp. 356-357, illustrated p. 60. See a comparable gilt-bronze Raktayamari and Vajravetali group, Yongle mark and period, from the Ukhtomsky Collection, The State Hermitage, St. Petersburg, the figures in yab-yum trampling on Yama prostrate on a buffalo recumbent on a lotus base, included in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and Tibet House, New York exhibition, Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet, 1991, illustrated in the Catalogue, p. 233, no. 76. The results of University of Toronto, Isotrace Radiocarbon Laboratory, TO-4428 carbon 14 test are consistent with the dating of this lot.

Request more information