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HOME : Asian Art : Art of Tibet : The House of Ratnasambhava (Thangka)
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The House of Ratnasambhava (Thangka) - AM.0433
Origin: Tibet/Nepal
Circa: 16 th Century AD to 18 AD
Dimensions: 32.25" (81.9cm) high x 23.5" (59.7cm) wide
Collection: Asian Art
Medium: Canvas, Silk


Additional Information: Dimensions including silk backing: 37.25

Location: United States
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Description
This magnificent thangka depicts one of the Five Transcendent (Dhyani) Buddhas, Ratnasambhava. These are not historical figures, like Shakyamuni, rather they exist in the imaginary realm and collectively symbolise enlightenment and the attainment of Buddhahood. They often appear in mandalas and are fundamental to Buddhist meditation practices. Ratnasambhava is associated with the southerly direction and is usually listed third, after Vairocana and Aksobhya and before Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi. The name derives from Sanskrit and literally means ‘born from the jewel.’ Seated in the lotus position, he performs the ‘varada mudra’ with his right hand extended down, palm outward. This is a gesture of charity or giving and symbolises the compassion and protection he offers to his disciples. He has the power to transform pride and promotes the wisdom of sameness or equality. According to this doctrine all human beings, regardless of age, wealth or race, have the ability to achieve enlightenment and thus equality.

The colour traditionally associated with Ratnasambhava is a light golden yellow, the colour of the sun and linked to prosperity and fertility. The Dhyani Buddhas are typically richly adorned as a sign of their elevated status. This example is no exception; the jewellery includes a crown, armlets encrusted with gems, a series of four necklaces and large gold earplugs. The short striped dhoti is richly coloured in red, blue and green. The lotus throne is supported by two horses, the traditional vehicle of Ratnasambhava and symbolic of spiritual journeys, impetus and liberation. Eight bodhisattvas are arranged on three tiers, two of which are depicted standing. These comprise a chorus of listeners (shravakas). In fact the cult of the Eight Bodhisattvas originated in India during the early days of Mahayana Buddhism and was especially popular in Tibet. In this painting the standing pair are particularly elegant, with their hips protruding and their pose orientated towards the centre.

This work would have originally been part of a set of five, each panel depicting one of the five Dhyani Buddas. These were hung in Buddhist temples and monasteries, often above the door or on a crossbeam in front of the main shrine. Visual representations of Ratnasambhava are extremely rare and difficult to come by and it is in front of such images that Buddhist ordination typically takes place. The Los Angeles County Museum owns a very similar thangka, assigned to Tibet and dated to the late twelfth-early thirteenth century (see Exh., ‘The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art,’ cat. no. 14). Similar scenes have also been attributed to Nepalese artists working for Tibetan Buddhist patrons in the thirteenth century. A two-line inscription in black pigment is contained within the painted red border on the lower edge. The painted cloth is surrounded by a frame of moss green silk brocade.

For further references to Ratnasambhava in Tibetan/Nepalese painting see: S. M. Kossack, ‘Sacred Visions: Early Paintings From Central Tibet,’ (New York, Metropolitan Museum, 1998), pp. 104, 138-143. D. I. Lauf, ‘Tibetan Sacred Art: The Heritage of Tantra,’ (Bangkok, 1995), A. Heller, ‘Tibetan Art,’ (Suffolk, 1999), p. 87. - (AM.0433)

 

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