Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Vajrabhairava

Period:
Ming dynasty (1368–1644)
Date:
early 15th century
Culture:
China
Medium:
Embroidery in silk, metallic thread, and horsehair on silk satin
Dimensions:
57 1/2 x 30 in. (146.1 x 76.2 cm) Mount (including backboard and bonnet): 63 1/4 × 34 9/16 × 3 5/8 in. (160.7 × 87.8 × 9.2 cm)
Classification:
Textiles-Embroidered
Credit Line:
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1993
Accession Number:
1993.15
Not on view
The powerful protective deity Vajrabhairava became important in Tibet and ultimately played an role in Buddhist practice at the Chinese court. In the upper right hand corner is almost certainly the Gelugpa lama Shakya Ye shes, who visited the court of the Ming Yongle-period emperor Chengzu, when he conducted Vajrayana rituals in 1415–16. In conjunction with Shaka Ye shes’s return to Tibet, where he ultimately became the first abbot of the Sera Monastery, the emperor Chengzu sent gifts. These included an inscribed embroidered tangka from the same workshop, possibly explaining the origins of this work. This extraordinary example of the embroiderer’s art employs extremely fine silk floss and achieves brilliant gradations of color; the use of horsehair underneath creates three-dimensional effects.
This will be on view starting January 28, 2015.
Inscription: Inscriptions on the back written on the cloth:

There are a number of inscriptions written directly on textiles used for framing the image.
The exact position of the inscriptions on the textile needs to recorded, and it may well be that there are sewn over parts not visible from the photograph. None of these fragments of texts appear to belong directly together.

Across (photo 261558):
***|| ōṃsvasti|
‘ōṃ, may all be well’.

On strip, back to back to each other:
In the first line of the inscription possible vowel signs above the letters are not visible, making the reading uncertain. The two strips reused here back to back to each other may well be cut from the border of of the textile of which a longer inscription is also preserved (261554-5). It would have to be checked if they are actually fitting to the sides of the text there.

Transcription (photo 261559):
? s|| lags brgyud kha ch[e]’[i] rang luṭ ?
*** || ōṃsvasti| m ?
... well arranged / good lineage (legs brgyud) ... tradition (rang lugs) of Kashmir ...

Of the two inscriptions along the border of a textile, the one written on the plain edge is cut off at the beginning and is incomplete at the end. The previous fragments may belong to the same text, one of them beginning it. If they belong directly together Parts of the beginning may be still extent. The text is in verses of seven syllables.

Transcription (beginning on 261554, end on 261555):
... mkhan rgyud rnaṃs la ‘dud|| tshogs mchog ‘dus pa’[i] rgya mtsho rnaṃs|| lha rigs1
grags pa’i mtshan mchad2 pa’i || dad pa’i shugs can de nyid kyis|| ca3 bsam ‘grub pa’i ph
# ...
... bowing in front of the spiritual preceptors (mkhan rgyud) and
venerating the oceans of the supreme assembly
with the marks of [those] known as gods.
By the nature/reality of strong faith ...
... what is thought of become fulfilled ....

The other inscription along the border is directly written along the edge of the ornamented
textile itself. As this textile has been reused in a way that the script is upside down the
inscription does not relate to the piece as such. These are the last verses of a longer text.
Transcription (beginning on photo 261556, end on 261557):

...gun chos brgrubs4 pa’i tshe | lha rjas5 gos mchog bzang po ‘dis || bkra shis ‘khyil pa’i
chos dung x || # ng mad/ng cho # # kh ng bskor # # phul|| bhawan-||

... at the time when ... dharma ... has been well-accomplished/attained, the Buddha (lha rje6), with this beautiful best silk/garment is given .... the auspicious swirled/twisted (‘khyil pa) dharma-conch ....

Two parts of the same inscription in two lines are found on the bands, one of them being the beginning section.
Photo 261713:
** || bla ma ta ra ko gsuṃ po gus pas mchod|| ‘gr ...
pa’i gyas ‘khyil la|| bēṭu zhu ba ‘khyil ‘dra’i # ...

Photo 261713:
1. One of the three families of gods, man and nāga.
2. Read mchod?
3. Read ci.
4. Read bsgrubs?
5. rjes
6. Also: doctor, healer.

... [m]chog dge ‘dun ‘gyes pa’i gnyen skur gyis|| mi phaṃ bstan ...
... s|| smigs m/zhar sngo ‘ar byed pa gad te ni|| blo gros bkra shis ...

... by abusing the companions/relatives that are separated from the monastic community; ... of the teaching of Maitreya...

Christian Luzcanits, 5/22/2004
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