VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Three Mahasiddhas
Vm 2926
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

This thangka painting represents the three Mahasiddhas: Nagpokyopa, Phagtshangpa and Zangpopa. Nagpokyopa supposedly lived in the 8th century. His pride hindered his spiritual advancement and his apprenticeship with a “weaver“ brought no results either. He died of a gastric disorder, but ultimately reached enlightenment. He is depicted in the upper part of the thangka as flying with a ritual drum and a scull bowl in his hands. A skeleton with a flaming aureole dances before him. Phagtshangpa was an Indian monk and a pupil of one of the founders of Tantrism. He is said to have meditated for twelve years and then became a swineherd. He is captured in a meditating posture, gazing at the Buddha Shakyamuni on a cloud. Two sows, his attributes, are seen in the picture’s lower section. Zangpopa was reputedly Nagpokyopa’s disciple. In this image, he is presented in a yogi position, standing on one leg next to a tree, with an elephant behind it. The treatment of the thangka suggests the painting probably originated from Eastern Tibet. It is painted in bright colours, alternated with gold. The figures predominate the image and are rendered in great detail. Their appearance suggests an Indian-Nepalese influence. However, the landscape in the background seems to derive more from Chinese landscape painting. The individual elements are combined somewhat eclectically, yet give a balanced and harmonious impression. The delicate brushwork is manifested, for example, in some of the figures’ nearly transparent aureoles.

History of the Object
Mahasiddha (Drubtob Chenpo- Drubchen in Tibetan) is a term for a prominent Hindu or Buddhist (tantric) master. The greatest masters come from India, but some also come from other neighbouring countries. A popular series depicts 84 Mahasiddhas shown individually or in threes. The four thangkas in the National Gallery, portraying twelve Mahasiddhas, probably formed such a series. These paintings feature all three types of Siddhas – monastic (dressed in a monk’s robes), lay (portrayed in keeping with their vocations) and tantric (with bone ornaments – according to Buddhist tantric literature, only these figures have the appearance of Mahasiddhas). A name is inscribed in gold script under each figure. On the reverse side of the thangka, a four-line laudatory inscription is written for each figure that commends their spiritual greatness and a particular, distinctive aspect of their lives. There are also three mantras that are repeated on all thangkas in this series. This series is a unique documentation of artwork by a particular school of painting. The painting’s treatment is of superior artistic quality and is very well preserved.

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Type
Painting 
Materials
Colours and gold on canvas 
Measurements
50 x 75 cm (with brocade mounting 136 x 75 cm) 
Creator name
Unknown Tibetan painter 
Creator date
17th century 
Where it was made
Tibet 
Geography
China 
Time period
AD 17th century ~ AD 17th century 
Creation date
17th century 
Function
Painting (Thangka) 
Acquisition
This thangka is a part of a series of four paintings purchased by the National Gallery from Martínek’s collection.). In the early years of the 20th century, Josef Martínek (1888-1976) moved to China and in the 1920s he worked as the director of the British customs office in Shanghai. During his sojourn in China, he devoted himself intensively to collecting Asian art. He focused his efforts on tomb figures, ancient bronzes, Buddhist art and painting. In 1930 and 1931, he organized exhibitions in Prague, thereby arousing the interest of the Czech public in Chinese art. 
Copyright
National Gallery in Prague 
Acknowledgements
Lenka Gyaltso, Nora Jelínková, Lubor Hájek 
Owner
National Gallery in Prague 
Museum
The National Gallery 
Credit line
National Gallery in Prague 

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