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An important thangka with the Footprints of the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje
An important thangka with the Footprints of the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje


An important thangka with the Footprints of the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje
Tibet, circa 1339
Depicting the soles of two golden footprints with multicolored chakras standing on a moon disc over a multicolored lotus base, a stylized column in between topped by a blue utpala flower supporting the Karmapa, and flanked by vines bearing the Eight Auspicious Symbols, at bottom center a golden vase flanked by naga figures, all surrounded by the early Marpa Kagyu lineage and various buddhas, protectors and wealth deities, with three inscriptions on verso
Opaque pigments and gold on textile
21 1/8 x 14¾ in. (51.1 x 37.5 cm.)
J.C. Singer, "Painting in Central Tibet, ca. 950-1400," Artibus Asiae, vol. LIV, 1/2, 1994, pp. 87-136, fig. 32
Himalayan Art Resources, www.himalayanart.org, item. no. 57024

Lot Essay

The deities in this painting are identified as follows: in the top register from far left is blue Vajradhara, yellow Shakyamuni Buddha, and the Five Symbolic Buddhas of Vajrayana Buddhism; yellow Ratnasambhava, blue Akshobhya, white Vairochana, red Amitabha and green Amoghasiddhi. In the second register from the left are the mahasiddhas Tilopa and Naropa, Dusum Kyenpa the First Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje the Third Karmapa, Karma Pakshi the Second Karmapa, Marpa Chokyi Lodro and Milarepa Zhepa Dorje. The Third Karmapa is given special prominence by his central placement, slightly larger size, and frontal gaze (the others face right or left). This prominence makes it possible to identify the footprints as well as date the painting to the latter half of the life of Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339).

Descending on the left side are two unidentified Tibetan teachers, followed by orange Manjushri with raised sword, red Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara with four hands and black Bernagchen Mahakala wearing a thick cloak. To the right of Mahakala is yellow Jambhala holding a fruit and a mongoose. Descending on the right side are two unidentified Tibetan teachers, white Chaturbhuja Avalokiteshvara, red Vajravarahi standing in a dancing posture, and a male donor figure wearing monastic robes. To the left of him is the black female protector deity, Shri Devi, riding a donkey.

The back of the painting has three inscriptions:
1. The three letters, OM, AH, HUM, representing enlightened body, speech and mind, written in black for each of the figures depicted.
2. The middling and short mantras of Shri Chakrasamvara followed by the middling and short mantras of Vajrayogini.
3. The Ye Dharma mantra or Mantra of Dependent Arising: Ye dharma hetu prabhava hetum tesham tathagato hyavadat tesham cha yo nirodha evam vadi maha shramanah svaha.

The tradition of commissioning drawings of a teacher's feet appears to be an oral instruction coming down from Gampopa Sonam Rinchen, the teacher of the First Karmapa, Dusum Kyenpa, and also of Pagmodrupa Dorje Gyalpo, who wrote a famous early text describing this practice. Currently there are only four paintings known - in the East or the West - depicting a Karmapa and footprints; this is one of them.

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