Dharmapala Thangka CentreSchool of Thangka Painting

Antique Ngor Mandala from the 16th century

A thirty-three-deity Ushnishavijaya Mandala

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Photo and Text courtesy of Bonhams

Sold by Bonhams Hong Kong, March 2021 [Price realised US$ 200,312 incl. buyers premium]

The following images show the details of the 600 year old painting.

Description of Bonhams: Distemper on cloth; verso with repeated Tibetan, 'om, ah, hum', invocations in black ink; with original cloth mount, and original red lacquered dowel inscribed in gold Tibetan translated, 'Ushnishavijaya with Many Deities'

Himalayan Art Resources item no. 88540

Size with silks: 85.2 x 48.4 cm [33 1/2 x 19 "]

Glowing in white from the center of her celestial palace, the wisdom goddess, Ushnishavijaya, calmly smiles. She has three faces of white, yellow, and blue, the last being slightly wrathful. In her eight radiating arms she holds a lotus-borne red Amitabha, a bow and arrow, a vase of plenty, a lasso, and displays gestures of reassurance [abhaya mudra] and wish-granting [varada mudra]. At the center, before her bosom, she balances a five-colored visavajra, itself a color-coordinated microcosm of her abode.

Adding to the painting's complexity, Ushnishavijaya's palace is also inhabited by thirty-two deities, each reclining against lotus petals similar to those of sculptural mandalas [cf. Huntington, Circle of Bliss, Columbus, 2003, p.254, no.68]. A ring of thirty-two petals surrounds the palace, symbolizing the purified minds of these retinue deities.  

Furthermore, sixteen tiny offering goddesses dance around the palace's veranda. Its walls are decorated with garlands and streamers, while four gates are surmounted by parasols under which deer flank a Dharma-wheel – symbols of Shakyamuni's wisdom. Beyond the palace's protective ring, alternating figures of Amitayus and Amitabha populate the painting's corners and top and bottom registers. Sitting in the bottom center is another figure of Ushnishavijaya; in the top center, a Sakya teacher.

This mandala likely forms the final painting of a set of approximately forty-four based on the Vajravali of Abhayakaragupta [11th century]. The palette is strong and vibrant, consistent with many portraits and mandalas that have survived from Ngor monastery. For example, compare with the Thirty-Two Deity Guhyasamaja mandala sold at Bonhams, New York, 17 March 2014, lot 18 that was dated by inscriptional evidence c.1520-1533.

A very similar Sakya mandala of Paramasukha Chakrasamvara in the McCormick Collection is published in Leidy & Thurman, Mandala, 1997 pp. 92-3. Also from Ngor monastery, it bears inscriptional evidence that dates it c.1500. Like this Ushnishavijaya mandala, it is associated with tantric practice to promote long-life.

The mandala is unusual for the large size of its central figure. The painter sets Ushnishavijaya against the green, blue, and red of her immediate aureole to project her outwards like a dazzling light. The proportions allow for the fine treatment of her pale green and maroon lower garments, draped in sumptuous folds across her lap. These features are often absent at the center of more conventional mandalas of the period. A Pancharaksha Mandala of strikingly similar composition, sharing a brilliant white figure in its center, is held in the Alain Bordier Foundation [von Schroeder, Tibetan Art of the Alain Bordier Foundation, Hong Kong, 2009, pp.40-1, pl.14].

Origin: Tibet, Ngor monastery, circa 1500-50

Measurements: 17.4 x 20" | 44.2 x 50,9 cm
Material: Natural Stone Colors
High resolution: Display [1.2 MB, 1590 x 1840 px.]