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Deities and Devotion in Mongolian Buddhist Art

early 20th century
Ink and pigments on paper
41.9 x 29.8 cm

Purchased with funds donated by Ronald ’62 and Gerri Vander Molen, 2019.13.19

Ӧndör Gegeen Zanabazar (1635-1723) was a Khalkha Mongol prince turned monk who was recognized as the reincarnation of an important Buddhist saint by the Fifth Dalai Lama, and installed as the supreme leader of the Gelug School in Mongolia. Through his combined spiritual and political authority, Zanabazar encouraged the spread of Buddhism in Mongolia and helped it gain widespread acceptance there as a popular religion. As a young man, Zanabazar spent several years studying in Tibet, where he acquired not only religious knowledge, but also knowledge of painting, sculpture and architecture that he used to create a flourishing new artistic culture in his home country. Indeed, many of the artworks in this exhibition belong to traditions that either began with or were rejuvenated by Zanabazar in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. This drawing portrays the bald-headed Zanabazar sitting on a throne, wearing a monk’s robes, and holding a vajra scepter and bell in his hands. He is accompanied by three deities: Secret Accomplishment Hayagriva in the bottom left corner, Green Tara in the bottom center, and Six-Armed Mahakala in the bottom right corner. The grid lines that overlie his face and body were added by the artist to ensure correct proportions in the drawing, and to make it easier to transfer the image when the drawing was used as a model for painting.

References: Fleming, Zara (ed.). Mongolian Buddhist Art: Masterpieces from the Museums of Mongolia. Volume 1, Parts 1 & 2: Thangkas, Appliqués and Embroideries. Chicago: Serindia Publications, 2011, pp. 404-405 and 408-415; Meinert, Carmen (ed.). Buddha in the Yurt: Buddhist Art from Mongolia, Volumes 1 & 2. Munich: Hirmer Publishers, 2011, pp. 210-211; Berger, Patricia. “After Xanadu: The Mongol Renaissance of the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries” in Berger and Bartholomew, Mongolia: The Legacy of Chinggis Khan (1995), pp. 56-62.