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Subject:Problems with Dr. Heller's conclusion
Posted By: Prof. John C. Huntington Sat, May 14, 2005

While I would like to have reviewed in detail the many questionable assumptions in Dr. Heller's article, I do not feel the necessity to provide her basic training in stylistic analysis (which she obviously needs).

Dr. Heller's concluding paragraph with my comments.

"To conclude, in the opinion of this writer, the silver jug now in the Jokhang presents significant differences from Sogdian workmanship and does not faithfully copy the Sasanian or Sogdian costumes and interstitial designs."

This is a very problematic statement. Proven Sogdian parcel gilt silver vessels are few and far between (if any exist at all). The corpus to which Heller seems to refer simply does not exist. Parcel gilt vessels are known from Sassanian Iran and China. While she wanders about in Chinese painting and Near Eastern metalwork, she has no direct comparisons!

"... Having examined ancient and modern Tibetan costumes, Sogdian and Sasanian costumes, if we now look again at the silver jug of the Lhasa temple, it is apparent that the people represent Tibetan depictions of Central Asians but wearing robes very similar to Tibetan robes of the Pugyel empire period - and even to modern Tibetan robes!" This is simply in error. The Iranian "kaftan' style had wide spread usage from Afghanistan and Ladakh to Qizil and Turphan. Minor details changed but the major themes remained the same.

"No Sogdian carver would put a crown on a dancer,"
There is no evidence pro or con for this statement; after I see a body of several dozen carvings or Sogdian dancers, I might believe it---if it proved to be the case.

"Their dancers didn't carry pipa Chinese guitar over their shoulders ." Actually this is simply wrong. Sogdian performers introduced the "lute" to China in the Northern Wei dynasty and, by the Tang dynasty, it had become an integral part of the Chinese musical system as the "pipa." No later than 754 it had moved to Japan and examples of the instrument, known as biwa, are found in the Shoso-in. The "behind the head playing of the lute" while dancing is a staple of Tang dynasty painting at Dunhuang and is occasionally found in Tang tomb figures, usually in the context of a depiction of Sogdian musicians on the back of either a camel or an elephant.

"it is the Tibetans who created a transposition between the Chinese musicians and the Sogdian dancers, and represented it in the mural paintings made under Tibetan patronage during their occupation of Dunhuang, as well as in the silver jug of the Jokhang."

Absolutely wrong conclusion!

Who created the wine vessel is simply unknown. It may have been either Iranians or Chinese (or possibly Iranian trained Sogdian craftsmen which I doubt). There is no corroborating evidence for this type of metal work being carried out in Tibet ant this time.

Indeed, the Arabic conquest of the Sassanian empire in the 7th century points to a probably Chinese manufacture if the vessel. The last Sassanin emperor escaped to china with a entourage of artisans and craftsmen where thy greatly influenced the aesthetic tastes of the court. Parcel gilding became commonplace.

Incidentally, Heller's observation that the vessel has been "re-gilded" is not verified out by an examination of the surface. the abrasions and accumulations if dirt could not have survived the vigorous cleaning necessary for a "re-gilding."

"This transmutation brings striking results, in the Lhasa jug, and leads us to consider that there is a degree of amalgamation which becomes characteristic of all of the Tibetan silver vessels examined here. This capacity to harmoniously import several different items of esthetic vocabulary (hearts, geometrics, people) as well as emulating foreign techniques of manufacture, but adapting these esthetics and techniques to Tibetan taste - this would seem to be the hallmark in the development of Tibetan esthetic sensitivities.

While I am one to extol the virtues of Tibetan artisans and craftsmen, this closing paragraph seems to me to be an exercise in extreme hyperbole-- certainly not fitting of a scholarly presentation


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