THE TENTH KARMAPA CHOYING DORJE (1604-1674) Marpa Receives The Poet-Saint Milarepa

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Lot 109
THE TENTH KARMAPA CHOYING DORJE (1604-1674)
Marpa Receives The Poet-Saint Milarepa

HK$ 10,000,000 - 15,000,000
US$ 1,300,000 - 1,900,000
Premium Lot - Online Bidding Will Not Be Available
THE TENTH KARMAPA CHOYING DORJE (1604-1674)
Marpa Receives The Poet-Saint Milarepa
Distemper on silk; without restoration; recto with gold Tibetan inscription attributing the painting to the hand of the master.
Image: 51 x 31.4 cm (20 1/8 x 12 3/8 in.)

Footnotes

  • Published
    Ulrich von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Volume Two: Tibet & China, Hong Kong, 2001, pp.807–8, 810, fig.XII–23.

    Karl Debreczeny, "The Buddha's Law Among the 'Jang: The 10th Karma-pa's Development of his 'Chinese-Style Thangka Painting' in the Kingdom of Lijiang", in Orientations, Vol. 34, no.4, 2003, p.48, fig.4.

    Irmgard Mengele, "The Life and Art of the Tenth Karma-pa Chos-dbyings-rdo-rje (1604-1674): A Biography of a Great Tibetan Lama and Artist of the Turbulent Seventeenth Century" (Dissertation), Universität Hamburg, 2005.

    Karmapa 900 Organizing Committee, Karmapa 1110 – 2010: 900 Years, A Commemorative Book for the Celebration of the 900th Anniversary of the Birth of the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, India, 2010, p.38.

    Irmgard Mengele, Riding a Huge Wave of Karma: The Turbulent Life of the Tenth Karma-pa, Kathmandu, 2012, p.346, pl.5.

    Karl Debreczeny, The Black Hat Eccentric: Artistic Visions of the Tenth Karmapa, Rubin Museum of Art, pp.24-5, 178-9, figs.0.5 & 6.6.

    Shamar Rinpoche, A Golden Swan in Turbulent Waters: The Life and Times of the Tenth Karmapa Choying Dorje, 2012, pp.56 & 64, fig.3.

    Luo Wenhua, "A Survey of a Willow-branch Guanyin Attributed to the Tenth Karmapa in the Palace Museum and Related Questions", in The Tenth Karmapa & Tibet's Turbulent Seventeenth Century, Debreczeny & Tuttle (eds), Chicago, 2016, pp.172, fig.7.15.

    Provenance
    Collection of Ulrich von Schroeder since 1998


    十世噶瑪巴卻英多傑(1604-1674)
    瑪爾巴迎見詩聖米拉日巴唐卡
    絹本設色;未經修復;畫芯正面有金色藏文題記,指明此畫為大師所作。
    畫芯尺寸:51 x 31.4釐米(20 1/8 x 12 3/8英寸)

    10,000,000-15,000,000 港元

    著錄
    烏爾裏希·馮·施羅德,Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Volume Two: Tibet & China,香港,2001年,807–8,810頁,圖XII–23。

    Karl Debreczeny,"The Buddha's Law Among the 'Jang: The 10th Karma-pa's Development of his 'Chinese-Style Thangka Painting' in the Kingdom of Lijiang",刊載於Orientations,卷34,4號,2003年,48頁,圖4。

    Irmgard Mengele,"The Life and Art of the Tenth Karma-pa Chos-dbyings-rdo-rje (1604-1674): A Biography of a Great Tibetan Lama and Artist of the Turbulent Seventeenth Century"(博士論文),漢堡大學,2005年。

    Karmapa 900 Organizing Committee,Karmapa 1110–2010: 900 Years, A Commemorative Book for the Celebration of the 900th Anniversary of the Birth of the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa,印度,2010年,38頁。

    Irmgard Mengele,Riding a Huge Wave of Karma: The Turbulent Life of the Tenth Karma-pa,加德滿都,2012年,346頁,圖5。

    Karl Debreczeny,The Black Hat Eccentric: Artistic Vision of the Tenth Karmapa, Rubin Museum of Art,紐約,2012年,24-5,178-9頁,圖0.5及6.6。

    Shamar Rinpoche,A Golden Swan in Turbulent Waters: The Life and Times of the Tenth Karmapa Choying Dorje,2012年,56及64也,圖3。

    羅文華,"A Survey of a Willow-branch Guanyin Attributed to the Tenth Karmapa in the Palace Museum and Related Questions",刊載於The Tenth Karmapa & Tibet's Turbulent Seventeenth Century,Debreczeny與Tuttle(編),芝加哥,2016年,172頁,圖7.15。

    來源
    烏爾裏希·馮·施羅德珍藏,自1998年


    Essay by Huang Chunhe, July 2017

    Many great artists left their footprints in the history of Tibetan Buddhist art, among them Choying Dorje was undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary. Gifted and versatile, he was skillful in both painting and sculpture. His works are extremely sought after among Buddhist art collectors around the globe. In September 2012 the author had the chance to study two sets of arhat thangkas by Choying Dorje in the collection of the Lijiang Museum in Yunnan and after that some of his other paintings, and subsequently developed a strong interest in his works. In the author's opinion, although borrowing the basic format of Tibetan thangka, the artist had incorporated many elements of Chinese art. He created in his painting a scenario that does not mean to convey the grand philosophy of Buddhism, but to represent the tranquil and joyful nature of everyday life. In doing so his paintings were imbued with the spirit and ideas of Chan, unprecedented and remarkable. A masterpiece from Choying Dorje's oeuvre, the von Schroeder thangka exemplifies these qualities.

    One

    Let us first look at the subject matter. At the center of the composition, Marpa, the founder of the Kagyu School, sits in front of a cave with his feet against each other, behind him the sapphire-blue rocks forming an aureole. His oval face slightly raised, with a cherry-like mouth, short nose, and small eyes abstractly rendered, typical of the facial features favored by Choying Dorje. Raising a horn-shaped cup in his right hand and wearing a grey robe and black shoes, Marpa's physical appearance bears a close resemblance to an ancient Chinese hermit. If it was not for the black mala on his neck, one could hardly expect him to be the great Tantric teacher.

    To Marpa's left, a lady in a green blouse and stripe-patterned skirt kneels next to him. Again depicted in a simplified manner, her round face gives a gentle and obedient look. Adorned with malas around her neck and flower petals in her intensely black hair, she raises her right hand offering a cup of wine to Marpa, while holding a wine jug in her left, graceful and poised. Judging from the placement, clothing and posture, she should be Marpa's wife, Dakmema. On the other side, a young man dressed in brown kneels towards Marpa, but with his face turning to the viewer, with similar facial features to that of Marpa. He holds a bowl with both hands, while carrying a light grey travel bag on his back. Judging from his age, clothing, and the humble attitude, this young man is probably Marpa's student Milarepa.

    Below the central figures are some intriguing depictions of animals and landscape. Between Dakmema and Milarepa, two large black wine jars sit on a piece of wetland grass. These jars are of the typical type widely used in Lijiang, closely comparable to some excavated examples of the Ming and Qing Dynasty, held by museums in Lijiang and Dali. Next to the jars is an offering-stand and a pile of grain; the latter has also appeared on other paintings by the artist, symbolizing material wealth and abundance. A rooster, a hen, a sheep, a fish, and a snake gather around the wine jars, while on the other side a goat and a buffalo quietly lie next to Marpa, as if listening to him teach. Below them, a groom in a red robe is feeding two horses, with a cat sitting against his back. Right above the horses, a gold Tibetan inscription indicates that the painting was done by Choying Dorje himself: || mar pa lo tsa'i sku brnyan 'di rje btsun chos dbyings rdo rje phyag bris thugs sras kun tu bzang po la gnang ba byin brlabs can || "This image of Marpa the translator is a spiritually charged painting [by] the venerable Choying Dorje that he gave to his intimate disciple Kun tu bzang po [Pelden Gyatso (1610-1684)]."
    Appearing symmetrically in the celestial realm at the top, three groups of figures are encompassed by a haze, possibly to create a mysterious religious atmosphere. Among the four figures in the center group, the middle one wearing a long braid is likely Mahasiddha Tilopa. He holds in his hands a rosary and a long object (possibly a fish), flanked by two beautiful consorts each holding a wine bottle. A boy, probably Marpa, kneels in front of Tilopa with his two hands joining in adoration. Although Marpa was not a contemporary, he once had a vision of Tilopa during a heightened meditative state (samadhi) received teachings from him, which was probably the inspiration for this scene. The group on the left consists of a man in a red skirt holding a bowl and a wine bottle, presumably Naropa, and another in a black skirt with a bearded round face, likely an adult Marpa. The group on the right probably depicts Mahasiddha Kukkuripa in a blue skirt and hair band, while an adolescent Marpa in pink robe feeding a dog. All related to the Dharma-seeking Marpa, these scenes tell the story of his lineage and the transmission of teachings.

    As Marpa is the main subject matter, an account of his life may help us better understand this painting. Born as Chökyi Lodrö, Marpa (1012-1097) is the founder of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and a renowned translator of Buddhist scriptures. He was rebellious but precocious youth. He studied calligraphy and Tibetan with Lugyepa at the age of 12, and later mastered Sanskrit from Drokmi Shakya Yeshe. Afterwards he sold his inheritance, traveled to India and Nepal numerous times, and studied Vajrayana Buddhism with Naropa, Kukkuripa, and Maitripa, among others. After more than 10 years studying with Naropa, Marpa received the full transmission of his teachings and became his successor. Upon returning to Tibet, Marpa disseminated the teachings in Lhozhag and had many disciples. Among them were Ngok Choku Dorje, Tsurton Wangi Dorje, Meton Tsonpo, and Milarepa – known as the "Four Great Pillars". Never a monk, Marpa and his wife had seven sons.

    Two

    This energetic composition depicts 11 figures, 13 animals, and a wealth of flowers, trees, and rocks. Many of these subjects, especially animals and natural scenes, are rarely represented in traditional Tibetan thangkas. As with other works by Choying Dorje, this painting deviates from its Tibetan peers, blending aspects characteristic of Chinese painting, reflected not only in the subjects included, but also in composition, color, figural representation, and technique. Composition wise, although adopting the popular "three-section" format of Tibetan thangkas – with an oversized central figure at the cross-section between heaven and earth – the treatment of details are more flexible and nonconventional. In depicting figures, the emphasis is not on conveying the virtue or wisdom of those great teachers, but rather on depicting them as ordinary people engaged in everyday life. Instead of fine brush strokes and meticulous details, the artist favored spontaneous strokes and the expressive "boneless" technique, with the aim to capture the essence and mood, rather than formal resemblance. This painting clearly falls under the umbrella of a "Chinese-style thangka", a view shared by Tibetan, Chinese and Western scholars.

    Looking beyond stylistic analysis and examining the work from a cultural or philosophical perspective, we will see the influence of the Chinese Chan Buddhist tradition. In other words, Choying Dorje's artistic pursuit not only focuses on form or style, but also expresses a more profound idea – Chan. The word "Chan" is abbreviated from the transliteration of Sanskrit "dhyana", meaning "meditation" or "meditative state", while it originally means "samadhi" – a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation. After introduced to China, the Chan tradition greatly developed in both doctrine and practices, and evolved into a school of Mahayana Buddhism. It encourages the adoption of various practices, and the idea of practicing throughout all aspects of life, just as indicated in the famous saying, "Chopping wood and carrying water are all paths to Buddhahood". Once a student asked the Chan master Huihai, "How do you normally practice?" The teacher casually answered, "I eat when I'm hungry, and I sleep when I'm tired." This dialogue vividly demonstrates that Chan practice emphasizes humility and remaining diligent throughout the mundane tasks of daily life. The philosophy of Chan later influenced Chinese painting and formed a unique sub-category named "Chan painting", which is characterized by a liberation from conventional styles and illustrating Chan principles.

    In this painting, Choying Dorje clearly expresses an engagement with Chan Buddhism. His choice of subject matter, composition, color, brushstrokes, figural representations, as well as the interactive relationship between people and animals, all creates a vivid depiction of mundane life, which is the ultimate state of Chan practice. Most compelling is the wining and dining throughout the painting – some holding a bowl, some raising a cup, meanwhile grain piles and wine jars lay on the grass – a most truthful representation of everyday human life, in which, according to Chan teaching, the Buddha-nature is to be found. While Karl Debreczeny has suggested that Choying Dorje's fascination with eating scenes bore from the artist's struggles with starvation while seeking refuge from threats to his life (see Debreczeny, The Black Hat Eccentric, New York, 2012, p.111), their abundant depiction throughout his paintings actually arise from something more profound.

    This expression of Chan is also present in other thangkas by the artist, such as the two arhat-sets held by the Lijiang Museum. In these paintings one can see a couple arhats drinking wine; three others appreciating a painting of cranes fighting; another drinking water with his ear; an arhat and a monkey picking mushrooms together; and a monkey reading a book, among others. These seemingly mundane and sometimes illogical scenes in fact embody principles of Chan. They mean to help sentient beings eliminate those deviant attachments, break free from conventional thinking, reexamine their view of "self", and in so doing achieve the mind of Chan.

    Exiled from Tibet in 1645, Choying Dorje took refuge in the Mufu Palace in Lijiang, Yunnan province, and didn't return to Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet until 1673 (according to Biography of the Fifth Dalai Lama). His 29-year stay in Lijiang may explain the Chinese and Chan influences seen in his paintings, especially considering the city's rich cultural heritage and history of Chan Buddhism. Much research has been performed on the "Chinese style" of his paintings. But there is also sufficient evidence to show the source of this Chan influence, such as the popularity of Chan Buddhism during the early Qing Dynasty, and the close connection between Mufu Palace and the Mount Juzu Chan Monastery. All of these could have an impact on Choying Dorje's Buddhist practice, but there is little space to elaborate in this essay. The master had demonstrated great creativity in his paintings, revolutionizing both the Tibetan formula and the traditional Chinese style. One may wonder what were the driving forces behind this breakthrough – his artistic talent, Buddhist training, or his life experiences? Possibly all, but the most important in the author's opinion is the ups and downs he had gone through in life – his real source of inspiration.

    Let us revisit the painting and dig deeper. Within a picturesque landscape, Marpa relaxes on the grass, served by his charming consort, and accompanied by his student and a variety of animals: peaceful and free from worldly troubles. As such, it has the flavor of an ordinary scene of a Chinese family having dinner together, while the sense of solemnity and holiness of a religious painting is mute. His choice of subject matter may reflect his understanding of Chan and his Buddhist practice, as well as his wisdom obtained through suffering. More importantly, we see desire for freedom, peace, and an ordinary life. After being suppressed by the Gelug school, and forced to leave his home, his people, and his monastery, Choying Dorje took refuge in his paintings – he created in his works the kind of life he longed for; and the real identity of the figures he depicted were reelections of self in many ways. His paintings represent an ideal world in his mind, and supported him through difficult times.

    The importance of this thangka can be summarized with the following four aspects. Firstly, done by the hand of Choying Dorje, this painting with an inscription provides a crucial reference point for the research of other works potentially done by the master. There are only two other known paintings with such a dedicatory inscription. Secondly, its unique style, incorporating elements of Tibet, Chinese, and Chan art, is a great resource for the study of Choying Dorje's stay in Lijiang, his exposure to Chinese culture, as well as the cultural and artistic exchange between China and Tibet at the time. Thirdly, this painting and other works by the master express the ideas of Chan, which are rarely seen in Tibetan thangkas or Chinese paintings. Even Chinese Buddhist art seldom incorporates Chan principles in such noticeable manner. There is a great wealth of scholarly research to be done. Lastly, Choying Dorje created a new painting school by blending the aforementioned elements with the Kagyu Karma Gadri style, and left a rich legacy for the history of Tibetan art. In short, this is a masterpiece with significant historical, cultural, artistic, aesthetic, and religious value. Its artistic essence and techniques rival the works by the famous "Four Monk Painters in Early Qing" (Shi Tao, Bada Shanren, Kun Can, and Hong Ren). A thangka of such significance is worthy of great attention.

    此文章之中文版本收錄於限量版圖錄《Masterpieces of Himalayan Art from the Collection of Ulrich von Schroeder》
Contacts
THE TENTH KARMAPA CHOYING DORJE (1604-1674) Marpa Receives The Poet-Saint Milarepa
THE TENTH KARMAPA CHOYING DORJE (1604-1674) Marpa Receives The Poet-Saint Milarepa
THE TENTH KARMAPA CHOYING DORJE (1604-1674) Marpa Receives The Poet-Saint Milarepa
THE TENTH KARMAPA CHOYING DORJE (1604-1674) Marpa Receives The Poet-Saint Milarepa
THE TENTH KARMAPA CHOYING DORJE (1604-1674) Marpa Receives The Poet-Saint Milarepa
THE TENTH KARMAPA CHOYING DORJE (1604-1674) Marpa Receives The Poet-Saint Milarepa
THE TENTH KARMAPA CHOYING DORJE (1604-1674) Marpa Receives The Poet-Saint Milarepa
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