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1. Amitayus


1. Amitayus
Tibet, 11th century
Distemper on cloth
138.4 x 106.1 cm (541/2 x 413/4 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York;
Rogers Fund, 1989 (1989.284)

Amitayus, the Buddha of Eternal Life, sits in a meditative posture; in his hands he cradles his attribute, a vase that contains the elixir of immortality. Like Ushnishavijaya and the White Tara, he is invoked by devotees wishing to obtain long life. He is flanked by the standing bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara (left) and, probably, Manjushri (right). The bodhisattvas seated above are
differentiated by color, gestures, hairstyle, and crown or ushnisha (cranial protuberance). However, they cannot be specifically identified.1

The historical figures in the top and bottom registers are distinctive, and their presence implies an early date for the painting. The top row of seven probably represents some type of court or clan assembly. All but one figure wears a flat hat; five sit against throne backs and four of these are sheltered by parasols. The leader, who can be identified by his red mantle enhanced with rondelles, sits with a wine cup and a shield placed to his right. The figures at his left are probably his wives (without thrones, wine cups, or shields). On the far left of the painting, the two figures wearing brocaded inner robes and holding wine cups are probably courtiers. Their shields are nearby.
The two yellow-robed figures flanking the aureole (presented without wine cups or shields) might be minor officials or lamas. At the bottom left of the thanka a seated couple with shoulder-length hairstyles, probably the donors of the thanka hold their hands in anjali mudra, the gesture of reverence or adoration; lotus stalks with burgeoning buds spring from their hands, as also seen in other groups with donors and attendants (cat. no. 8). At the lower right a monk seated with a shield beside him attends offerings set on tripod stands. Included in the offerings are two conical objects set on the ground. The monk is probably the consecrator of the painting. 

In this thanka the emphasis is on volume rather than on decoration, unlike most of the Bengali-style paintings in this exhibition, which emulate late eleventh and perhaps early-twelfth-century Indian models where linear development was the primary concern. A number of the motifs are also uncharacteristic and point to an earlier date. Many of Amitayus's elaborate ornaments are atypical: the jewels hanging from or set above the armlets; the carefully arranged sash on the lotus seat; the bindi (forehead ornament), which also appears on the surrounding deities; the elaborate hair-braid ribbons that fall over the shoulders; the low double crown; and the tall ushnisha with an upper tier of flanking ribbons. Amitayus is backed by an unusual throne, three courses of which can be seen, and the nimbus has a distinctive surround of lotus petals. The simple border design of half-ovoid forms with central half rosettes perhaps an indication of lotus petals-is not set against a water pattern but intermeshes with a triangular motif of dots. The ovoid faces with heavy chins are distinctive, and the seat of the Buddha emerges from a lotus plant akin to that seen in the Ford Tara (cat. no. 3), not a common feature in early thankas. The overall impression of this painting is that it is somewhat provincial, but many of the details of the principal figures reveal a sophisticated understanding of Indian models.   

1     See cat. no. 4, note 1. [back]

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