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Ulrich von Schroeder & Joachim G. Karsten
The Silver Jug of the Lhasa Jokhang: a Reply
July 13, 2009
In 2003 Amy Heller published an article, where she attributes the famous silver jug with an animal head in custody of the Lhasa Jokhang indisputably to Tibetan craftsmen. She refutes categorically the possibility that Sogdian craftsmen from western Central Asia could have created this masterpiece.  During the times of the Tibetan empire (7th to early 9th century), Sogdians who were famous silver- and goldsmith were pursuing their trade in all commercial centres along the silk roads, including those in Eastern China and Tibet. There can be no doubt that foreign craftsmen also rendered their services to the Tibetan nobility, as documented by Sogdian silver objects found in Dulan. On the first page of her article, Amy Heller nevertheless clearly observes that the silver jug is the work of a Tibetan artist – while admitting in the same sentence that the people depicted are non-Tibetans:
But why would anybody commission a Tibetan artist to portray foreigners – possibly Sogdians – celebrating a dance known as “Sogdian whirl”, when Sogdian craftsmen were available in all commercial centres in Central Asia, China and Tibet. To illustrate the resources of the Tibetans she quotes that
To produce iron works such as chains and armour does not necessarily imply that the Tibetans were also great silver- and goldsmiths. Also if Tibetans were really such great craftsmen by the 7th/8th century, why would they have been depending largely on foreign artists for the decoration of their temples, not only during the Yar lung dynasty, but also throughout the ages till modern days? Also, it is the interpretation of the Tang Annals by modern Tibetan scholars that the presented objects were made by Tibetans. The idea that they could have been commissioned from foreigners, such as the Sogdians, does never enter the discussions. The Tang Annals just list the objects as part of the gifts received from such and such, without recording who made them. Whereas Amy Heller’s theory relies on the hypothesis that all those gifts were obviously made by Tibetan silver- and goldsmith, Martha Carter had a more cautious approach: “Clearly the Tibetan court employed metalworkers capable of creating these extraordinary objects.”  Especially in the case of the Jokhang jug decorated entirely with themes of non-Tibetan origin, it is somehow difficult or rather impossible to agree with Amy Heller’s conclusion that “this jug is indeed a Tibetan creation”. By this statement she rules out categorically the involvement of non-Tibetan craftsmen. In an attempt to back her theory she continues: “Incidentally, all of the animals identified as the head of the jug [camel, horse, deer, sheep] are native to Tibet” .These animals were not native exclusively to Tibet and the areas controlled by the Tibetans during the Yar lung Dynasty. The reader must go through sixteen pages to get the information that Amy Heller identifies the animal head as camel . If the Jokhang silver vessel would have been produced by Tibetan craftsmen, the camel would be the least likely one to have been chosen, but less so for a Sogdian craftsman.
With regard to the costumes of the five drunkards and musicians on the Jokhang jug Amy Heller notes:
The reader is then nevertheless informed that other people also wore similar costumes:
How can the costumes of the dancers on the Jokhang jar be regarded exclusively as Tibetan, if similar ones are found in Chinese ceramics depicting non-Tibetan performers of the “Sogdian whirl”? Also, why would anybody commission a Tibetan artist to portray non-Tibetan people celebrating a dance known as “Sogdian whirl”, when Sogdian craftsmen were offering their services also in Tibet.
In terms of theme Amy Heller continues:
Instead of quoting Ulrich von Schroeder out of context, Amy Heller should have quoted his description on the next page that the Dionysus or Bacchus cult was characterized by wild dance, thrilling music, and intoxicated excess. There could hardly exist a better description of the bacchanalian scenes represented on the silver jug. The opulent ornamentation with vine foliage (?) in the upper section and between the musicians and the drunkards fits well with this container originally intended for the storage and consumption of wine. The numerous bacchanalian representations on Gandharan stone reliefs clearly have their roots in the excessive cults arising from the worship of Dionysus.
With regard to the crown Amy Heller quotes Ulrich von Schroeder out of context:
This is not quite the same meaning as what has been actually written in von Schroeder's description “On the lower part of the round belly of the silver jar are two representations of musicians in frenzied dance. Shown are two bearded men, possibly princes, playing lutes behind their heads. Their unruly hair is held by ribbons decorated in front with the “sun in the crescent moon”, an emblem of royal status the use of which was restricted. …… The sun in the crescent moon emblem deserves special attention as it indicates a clear connection with Sogdian and Sasanian rulers.”
Since the above passage was written it has become clear to the authors of this reply that the so-called unruly hair is actually part of a crown-like helmet with the sun in the crescent moon motif at the bottom in front. A considerable number of coins and artworks have survived depicting Sasanian and Sogdian rulers wearing helmets or crowns of various shapes decorated with the sun and crescent moon motif.  Instead of searching similar examples, Amy Heller chooses to compare them with earlier Sasanian examples where the motif is used as a finial. Is it really too far fetched to associate the non-Tibetan performers of the “Sogdian whirl” wearing crowns with sun and crescent moon motif on the Jokhang jar with Sogdian nobility, perhaps princes? Also, on an important object of this size, it can be assumed that no ordinary person would be depicted.
With regard to the place of manufacture and the style of the work, Amy Heller notes:
We suggest that there was no "misunderstanding of the crown" on the part of the artist, as we describe above.
When it comes to the costumes, Amy Heller’s article becomes really confused with many contradictions and mistakes:
Amy Heller seems to have based her observation on the one musician illustrated in her article whose robe, as she correctly observes, is closed to the left (fig. 2). Unfortunately she did not include the second musician in her research; otherwise she would have noticed that the robe is closed to the right (not illustrated).
Amy Heller continues to write down all the exceptions without making any firm statement whatsoever. But the conclusion drawn from her writing seems to be, that Tibetans and non-Tibetan can have tight or loose fitting garments, closed to the right, closed to the left, or have a central closure. From this, Amy Heller concludes:
To back up her attribution of the Jokhang jar as being Tibetan Amy Heller writes:
Some of the so-called similarities are likely due to the possibility that they are actually Sogdian works. Then towards the end of the article there is postulated once more, as at the beginning, that :
And, as already pointed out above, characterized by being once closed to the left, and once to the right, documenting that there was no strict norm.
With regard to the style Amy Heller notes:
Does the meaning of Chinese design relate to the Chinese lute copied from Western Central Asian prototypes such as those used by the Sogdians? Does the reference to Nepalese technique relate to the time of the manufacture in the 8th century, or to the possible re-gilding in 1946, or both ?.
Amy Heller then concludes:
But Amy Heller fails to address one important question: Why would Tibetans make a large silver jar depicting foreigners resembling Chinese representations of Sogdians performing the “Sogdian whirl”, a dance not native to Tibet? Artists usually represent scenes “in such a way that its equipment, dress, ornaments and outward form be in agreement with the country”.  The outward form and technical features fit within the range of the various methods applied by Sogdian artists, while there is nothing exclusively Tibetan. Martha Carter summed it up like this: “Very probably, the silver- and goldsmiths who assembled at the tsanpo’s court and at regional centres of Tibetan rule were a multi-ethnic mixture of local, Sogdian, Turkic, Chinese, and perhaps even Iranian artisans. Out of these influences was created the style of early Tibetan metalwork”.  If not made locally in Tibet, the Jokhang jar could also be part of war loot obtained in one of the military campaigns in the areas adjoining Western Tibet, such as the Tarim Basin in Central Asia. Also if Tibetans were really such great craftsmen by the 8th century, why would they have been depending largely on foreign artists for the decoration of their temples, not only during the Yar lung dynasty, but also throughout the ages till modern days? So much with regard to Amy Heller’s’ statement that this jar is indeed, i.e. without a doubt Tibetan. Would anybody attribute this silver jar to Tibetan artists if it had been discovered not in Tibet but somewhere else?
After devoting twenty-four pages to an article concerning the Jokhang silver jar it would have been courteous to the reader to include large illustrations of all scenes, including also one of the second dancer. The three miniature black & white illustrations are certainly not giving credit to this masterpiece of silverwork, and work to inhibit the reader from forming an opinion. (please note this does not apply to the on-line version of Heller's article, which has sumptuous illustrations from Ulrich von Schoeder - asianart.com editor.) The article of Amy Heller is not easy to read. How can something be exclusively Tibetan and at the same time occur in other cultures? Much of the text has nothing to do with the subject and only augments the perplexity of the reader confronted throughout with contradictory statements. What else can one expect if the result of a so-called research is predetermined from the start? Too often one is going completely astray with conclusions based on comparing different cultures. 
It is the opinion of the two authors of this reply that the Jokhang jar has not been made by Tibetans but rather by Sogdian or other foreign silversmith from Western Central Asia about in the 8th century. This object could have been manufactured in Tibet, but it could also have been made elsewhere.
References to Tibetan & Other Silver Objects
von Schroeder, Ulrich. 2001. Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet. Volume Two; pp. 747, 792–795, pls. 190A–D.
Heller, Amy. 2003. “The Silver Jug of the Lhasa Jokhang: Some Observations on Silver Objects and Costumes from the Tibetan Empire (7th-9th century)”, Silk Road Art and Archaeology, No. 9, (2003), pp. 213–237, 28 figs.
Carter, Martha L. 1998. “Three Silver Vessels from Tibet’s Earliest Historical Era: A Preliminary Study”, Cleveland Studies in the History of Art, Vol. 3, pp. 22–47, illus.
Tanabe, Katsumi. 2003. “The Earliest Paramita Imagery of Gandharan Buddhist Reliefs – A New Interpretation of the So-Called Dionysiac Imagery”, Silk Road Art and Archaeology, No. 9, pp. 87–105, 21 figs.
Alram, Michael. 2000. “A Hoard of Copper Drachms from the Kapisha-Kabul Region”, Silk Road Art and Archaeology, No. 6, (1999–2000), pp. 129–150, 8 pls.
Errington, Elizabeth. 2000. “Numismatic Evidence for Dating the Buddhist Remains of Gandhara”, Silk Road Art and Archaeology, No. 6, (1999–2000), pp. 191–216, 78 figs.
Il’yasov, Jangar Ya. 2001. “The Hephthalite Terracotta [of Early Medieval Sogdian Culture]”, Silk Road Art and Archaeology, No. 7, (2001), pp. 187–200, 4 pls.Tanabe, Katsumi. 2004. “Foundations for Dating Anew the 38 Meter Buddha Image at Bamiyan”, Silk Road Art and Archaeology, No. 10, (2004), pp. 177–223, 55 figs.
Yatsenko, Sergei A. 2001. “The Costume of the Yuech-Chihs: Kushans and its Analogies to the East and to the West”, Silk Road Art and Archaeology, No. 7, (2001), pp. 73–120, 15 pls.
1. This is a reply to the article by Amy Heller “The Silver Jug of the Lhasa Jokhang: Some Observations on Silver Objects and Costumes from the Tibetan Empire (7th-9th century)”, Silk Road Art and Archaeology, No. 9, (2003), pp. 213–237, 28 figs. A version of this article appeared earlier as “The Silver Jug of the Lhasa Jokhang” in Asianart.com, published July 18 2002:http://asianart.com/articles/heller/index.html
2. von Schroeder, Ulrich. 2001. Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet. Volume Two: Tibet & China, pp. 747, 792–795, pls. 190A–D. (Visual Dharma Publ., Hong Kong).
3. Carter, Martha L. 1998. “Three Silver Vessels from Tibet’s Earliest Historical Era: A preliminary study”, Cleveland Studies in the History of Art, Vol. 3, p. 37.
4. Tanabe, Katsumi. 2003. “The Earliest Paramita Imagery of Gandharan Buddhist Reliefs – A New Interpretation of the so-called Dionysiac Imagery”, Silk Road Art and Archaeology, No. 9, pp. 87–105, 21 figs.
5. Alram, Michael. 2000. “A Hoard of Copper Drachms from the Kapisha-Kabul Region”, Silk Road Art and Archaeology, No. 6, (1999–2000), pp. 129–150, 8 pls.
6. Cf. Yatsenko, Sergei A. 2001. “The Costume of the Yuech-Chihs: Kushans and its Analogies to the East and to the West”, Silk Road Art and Archaeology, No. 7, (2001), pp. 73–120, 15 pls.
7. Cf. von Schroeder, Ulrich. 1981. Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, p. 31.
8. Carter, Martha L. 1998. “Three Silver Vessels from Tibet’s Earliest Historical Era: A preliminary study”, Cleveland Studies in the History of Art, Vol. 3, p. 37.
9. A similar approach led Marylin Rhie believe that she had found conclusive arguments to prove that the clay images of Srong btsan sgam po and his retinue are survivals of the Yar lung period (7th century). Recent studies have proven, that they date at the earliest from about the 14th century, and at the latest from the 17th century. Cf. Rhie, M. M. 1988. “The Statue of Songzen Gampo in the Potala, Lhasa”, Orientalia Iosephi Tucci Memoriae Dicata, Serie Orientale Roma, Vol. LVI, Vol. 3, pp. 1201–1219, 28 pls. [Attributed to the 7th century]. Cf. von Schroeder, Ulrich. 2001. Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet. Volume Two; pp. 852–859, pls. 197–98.
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