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The life of the Buddha
Place of Origin: Tibet
Date: 1700-1800
Object Name: Thangka
Materials: Ink and colors on cotton
Dimensions: Image: H. 40 in x W. 23 in, H. 101.6 cm x W. 58.4cm; Overall: H. 68 7/8 in x W. 36 5/8 in, H. 174.9 cm x W. 93.0 cm
Credit Line: Bequest of Marjorie Walter Bissinger
Department: Himalayan Art
Collection: Painting
Object Number: 2016.304
On Display: No

Description

Label:

In the centuries following the death of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, a standard set of eight events came to summarize his legendary life. In many artworks, an associated set of hand gestures allows viewers to identify these episodes. For example, the Buddha at the center of this painting sits in a pavilion and makes the gesture of “turning the wheel,” which indicates that he is delivering teachings.

This painting, however, does not deal with the standard eight life episodes, such as the pre-enlightenment events of Shakyamuni’s conception and birth. For although it does depict Shakyamuni eight times, in each case Shakyamuni is depicted as a fully enlightened Buddha, complete with hand gestures (mudras) associated with events that occur at or after his enlightenment. Moreover, all eight of these Buddhas occupy pavilion-like structures similar to that of the central image. As this painting does not conform to standard depictions of the eight events in the life of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, ongoing research on the painting’s abundant inscriptional content may help us interpret its original function.


Tibetan art includes sets of paintings devoted to the life stories of important historical personages such as the Buddha Shakyamuni. This painting, which is from such a set, shows the Buddha-seated on a moon disk upon a lotus pedestal with his hands in the gesture of preaching-among scenes of his life.

Often such paintings present interesting facets of Tibetan life and belief as well as details of Tibetan architecture. In the upper-left corner are shown yaks approaching a nomad tent woven from yak's hair; such tents are common in the plains of Tibet. On the right hand side, below the Buddha's knee, is a fire-ringed crevice in the earth; through it can be seen people suffering in hell. Slightly below, on the opposite side, is a shrine devoted to wrathful deities; it is filled and animal carcasses and festooned with human skins.


More Information

Exhibition History: "One Billion Buddhas: The Awakened Cosmos of Himalayan Buddhism", Asian Art Museum, 8/9/2016-4/9/2017
Label:

In the centuries following the death of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, a standard set of eight events came to summarize his legendary life. In many artworks, an associated set of hand gestures allows viewers to identify these episodes. For example, the Buddha at the center of this painting sits in a pavilion and makes the gesture of “turning the wheel,” which indicates that he is delivering teachings.

This painting, however, does not deal with the standard eight life episodes, such as the pre-enlightenment events of Shakyamuni’s conception and birth. For although it does depict Shakyamuni eight times, in each case Shakyamuni is depicted as a fully enlightened Buddha, complete with hand gestures (mudras) associated with events that occur at or after his enlightenment. Moreover, all eight of these Buddhas occupy pavilion-like structures similar to that of the central image. As this painting does not conform to standard depictions of the eight events in the life of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, ongoing research on the painting’s abundant inscriptional content may help us interpret its original function.


Tibetan art includes sets of paintings devoted to the life stories of important historical personages such as the Buddha Shakyamuni. This painting, which is from such a set, shows the Buddha-seated on a moon disk upon a lotus pedestal with his hands in the gesture of preaching-among scenes of his life.

Often such paintings present interesting facets of Tibetan life and belief as well as details of Tibetan architecture. In the upper-left corner are shown yaks approaching a nomad tent woven from yak's hair; such tents are common in the plains of Tibet. On the right hand side, below the Buddha's knee, is a fire-ringed crevice in the earth; through it can be seen people suffering in hell. Slightly below, on the opposite side, is a shrine devoted to wrathful deities; it is filled and animal carcasses and festooned with human skins.


Exhibition History: "One Billion Buddhas: The Awakened Cosmos of Himalayan Buddhism", Asian Art Museum, 8/9/2016-4/9/2017