Portraits of piety

Publish Time: 2020-07-09 Author: Lin Qi From: China Daily

The exhibition shows the museum's rich collection of thangka paintings, depicting famous teachers of four schools of Tibetan Buddhism, such as Tsongkhapa.

It also shows depictions of other major deities. For example, two paintings, including one donated by Shen, depict Nagaraksha who has a wrathful look on his face. He has nine fierce faces and 18 hands, and his lower body is a serpent tail. The deity is believed to protect people from noxious plagues.

A section at the exhibition focuses on various goddesses and protectors portrayed in thangka.

Two paintings, both against a black background, are from Shen's old collection.

One features the naked dancing female deity, Naro-mkhav-spyod-ma, also known as Naro Dakini, who often symbolizes wisdom and strength. The other depicts the female deity, Dpal ldan lha mo, or Palden Lhamo, who's the guardian of Lhasa.

An says some thangka paintings on display show exchanges between Tibetan and Han Buddhism. For instance, one created between the late 18th and early 19th centuries that depicts a wrathful Vajrabhairava deity shows the popular adoption of a three-section composition in thangka painting that began in the 15th century.

"A principal Buddhist deity or teacher is in the center, surrounded by associated gods and lineage figures of much smaller sizes, symmetrically placed in the landscapes of the heavens above and the Earth below," An says.

"The three-section form shows an influence of the creation of hand-scroll paintings in Zhongyuan (the Central Plains region) that divided a landscape into the foreground, middle ground and background."

She says thangka artists at the time also incorporated the precise brushwork of the gongbi genre of classical Chinese paintings.

Many thangka paintings on show are drawn on silk, while two dating to the early 20th century were made using the rare duixiu (piled-embroidery) technique, which requires meticulous skill to cut silk fabrics into various shapes and attach them to the painting to create a three-dimensional effect.

An says the special technique is still preserved by some thangka artists in Qinghai province and the Tibet autonomous region.

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