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A highly important group of nine paintings of the Third Panchen Lama
A highly important group of nine paintings of the Third Panchen Lama


A highly important group of nine paintings of the Third Panchen Lama
Tibet, circa 1770
Opaque pigments and gold on textile
25 x 14 1/8 in. (63.5 x 35.9 cm.), the largest
London collection, acquired from Christie's London, 7 November 2006, lots 132 and 133
Himalayan Art Resources (HAR), www.himalayanart.com, item nos. 30627-30635

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Lot Essay

This extraordinarily detailed and fnely executed set of paintings was made during the lifetime of the Third Panchen Lama, Lobzang Palden Yeshe (1738-1780), who is depicted as the centerpiece, seated on an elaborate throne facing the viewer. Additionally, this center painting bears his handprint on the verso, depicted on the overleaf. He is fanked by paintings of his pre-incarnation lineage. The Panchen Lamas are a line of successively re-incarnating teachers in Tibetan Buddhism, closely associated with the Dalai Lamas, and their principal monastic seat is the Monastery of Tashi Lhunpo near Shigatse in Tsang Province, Tibet.

The present set relates to earlier standard sets of the same subject in which the central fgure is always the Third Panchen Lama fanked by an even number of pre-incarnates. The most complete set of thirteen paintings still in existence is in the collection of the Tibet House, New Delhi (HAR item nos. 71921-71933). The medium-length series adds two more paintings depicting Padmasambhava and Atisha, totaling ffteen paintings. The present set depicts a rediscovered lineage which incorporates four more Indian teachers as part of the incarnation lineage, totaling nineteen paintings, and is partially preserved here.
The popularity of the Third Panchen Lama paintings set is due in part to a set of thirteen woodblocks made at Narthang Monastery in the 18th century during the Lamas lifetime, which standardized the iconography of the figures in the lineage. Other sets were made directly from or based on these woodblocks, increasing the recognition of the Third Panchen Lamas authority.

There is a close fidelity between the woodblock prints and the current extended painting set. Each composition follows a standard format of a central fgure with two secondary fgures at the top and one or more at the bottom positioned on the right or left side. The central fgure alternates in posture facing either to the right side or left side depending on placement in the full display of the painting set. The top two secondary fgures generally represent a teacher plus a meditational deity, and the lower fgures are protector deities. The composition and iconography of all the fgures had remained fairly standard according to the wood block prints, until the discovery that the present example is an extended composition.

This extended version of the Panchen Lama incarnation lineage is based on the previous Menri style but with a stronger emphasis on brighter colors, landscape with perspective, fowers, trees and birds. Although the palette and movement of the extended lineage paintings are visually different from the original block prints and painted examples, the overall composition of the extended lineage remains the same. This particular style would come to be known as Tsang-ri, or the style of Tsang Province, also Tashi Lhunpo style, or Shigatse style. For other examples of this painting style, see a painting of the Fourth Panchen Lama (HAR item no. 94400), the Refuge Field (HAR item no. 87209), White Mahakala (HAR item nos. 351 and 813), Black Mahakala (HAR item no. 65787) and Red Mahakala (HAR item no. 69914).

A set of Twenty-one Taras of the Atisha Tradition, also dated to the mid-18th century, has the interesting iconographic feature of depicting the extended nineteen fgure Panchen Lama incarnation lineage. Only nine paintings are currently accounted for from the original set of twenty-one compositions. A most interesting detail is found in painting #17 (left 8, see HAR item no. 331) where in the top right corner there is a depiction of the mahasiddha Ghantapa. That Ghantapa of the Twenty-one Tara set and the Ghantapa in painting Left 2 from the present set are an almost exact match, one copied from the other, or both copied from a third source.

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