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C016-03 Antique Tibetan Buddhist Altar ~~ Five Clawed Dragons

Baronet 4 Tibet, Art Galleries, Dealers & Consultants, Vancouver, WA
Tibetan antique altar with mandala on sice circa 1600
Antique Tibetan Buddhist altar with summer and winter dragons circa 1600
left side
Antique Tibetan furniture buddhist altar with mandala on side circa 1600
right side

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Unique Tibetan Buddhist altar that was used inside of a temple, away from the main door. The art work and cabinet work are masterful; it is one of the few cabinets that has the rounded and mitered front frame. Each front door has a green summer and a brown winter dragon on it; what is highly unusual is that the dragons on the left door have four claws and the dragons on the right door have five claws. The Senge monasteries were very close to a border area with Imperial China which outlawed five clawed dragon depictions until about 1644. The Senge Monasteries adhered to this convention as a goodwill gesture. Officials from both Lhasa and Beijing were in the immediate area about 5 miles away, stationed in Rong Wum although governance was predominately Tibetan, the Chinese had two garrisons about 1 days march away. The Ming dynasty was at the stage of bankruptcy at the time this altar was made and how well staffed those garrisons were is not known. The Chinese Emperor Wanli had hired 50 artists from the Senge Monasteries during this time to build a temple on Mt. Wutai. This temple altar was made before the five-clawed prohibition was removed with the advent of the Qing Dynasty. A point of special interest besides the dragons claws is the purple pigments seen on the doors, purple was a very rare pigment and was unstable during storage, so it had to be used within a very short period of time, once applied however it remains stable. This is one of the earliest surviving altars with drawers; the drawer pulls are made from wood and were coated with 24kt gold. The sides have a mandala design laid out nicely in the kyungbur, with 24kt gold inside of the kyungbur designs. . The T-wave just under the top is only carved horizontally and vertically on the front, while the sides they are done in kyungbur without any carving. The zigzag design along with the T-wave became the norm during the 19th and 20th centuries. The top is not painted, however has a heavy wax and soot residue and there exists some splitting of the boards, which are attached with wood dowels that can be seen from the top. The top is also split as are the upper panels on the sides. The piece has had the soot and wax cleaned, although much still remains as it pooled inside of the kyungbur outlining. An acrylic preservative coating has been applied to the art work and Watco furniture oil on the unpainted wood to preserve both the painting and the wood. Comes with a COA signed by one of the monks, an iconography and images of the lama that blessed this tea table.

Age: circa 1580-1620
Materials: oil pine, and other woods
 Dimensions H= 21 3/4 " W= 24 7/8 " D= 14 5/8 "


C016-03 Price $1985.00 Plus shipping & crating~ EAST COAST $264.00 ~  MIDWEST $245 ~ MTN STATES $219.00 ~   WEST COAST $192.00; other destinations, contact David@baronet4tibet.com for a quote


The red and gold zigzag kyungbur adorning the frame is the transition of passion into compassion and the resultant Buddha like purity of actions and thoughts. The gold continuous ‘T’-wave just under the top edge of the of the altar is also called the thunder wave. This is the thunder of the vajra (diamond scepter, dorje in Tibetan), symbolizing skilful means, compassion, samsara.  This compassion is an active quality rather than mere sympathetic feelings not transformed into action. Compassion refers to action that is exactly consonant with whatever is occurring and that is not self-referential.


The front doors each have a green summer dragon and a brown winter dragon over purple and green rock cliffs with cumulus clouds in the sky, some of which are mare's tail. Unlike its demonic European counterpart, the Tibetan dragon is a creature of great creative power; a positive icon, representing the strong male yang principle of heaven, change, energy, wealth and creativity. Dragons are shape shifters, able to transform at will, from as small as the silkworm to a giant that fills the entire sky. Dragons are depicted in one of two colors, green or brown.  The green, or azure dragon of Buddhism ascends into the sky at the spring equinox; it represents the light's increasing power in springtime and the easterly direction of the sunrise. The brown dragon is the autumn equinox, when it descends into a deep pool, encasing itself in mud until the next spring, but its spirit is still with the practitioner bringing wealth and health. The pearls, or jewels clutched in the claws of the dragon represent wisdom and health. The dragon can control the weather by squeezing the jewels to produce dew, rain or even downpours when clutched tightly. The dragon is the vehicle of Vairochana, the white Buddha of the center or the east. Cumulus clouds which are quite common in Tibet: one significance of these fast moving clouds and the pure clarity of the sky is metaphorically an illustration of the Buddha Mind. Clouds may come and go across the heavens, like the transitory thoughts or delusions which appear to obscure the mind's true nature, yet the nature of the sky remains unchanged. this is like the mirror, which is always unaffected by the appearances which arise in it, the sky is clear, transparent, infinite and immaculate.
The rock/cliff formation represents the syllable "E" which appears in the opening stanza of early Buddhist scriptures, ("'thus,' I have heard"). The purple and green cliffs represent the unmoving nature of the mind when enlightenment has been attained. Mare's tail cumulus clouds are quite common in Tibet. One significance of these fast moving clouds and the pure clarity of the sky is metaphorically an illustration of the Buddha Mind. Clouds may come and go across the heavens, like the transitory thoughts or delusions which appear to obscure the mind's true nature, yet the nature of the sky remains unchanged.

The two drawers with their elephant tusk shaped pulls have the typical lotus blossom on a yellow background that was a quite commom depiction until the late 18th century. The lotus is an important Buddhist motif.  Images of the Buddha and other important persons often are shown seated on a lotus throne.  The growth of the lotus, with its roots in mud, growing through water, and emerging as a wonderful plant above the water's surface, is seen as an analogy of the soul’s path from the mud of materialism to the purity of enlightenment.

The sides have a rarely depicted mandal design on the main panels with clouds on the smaller upper panel. Mandalas are 2 dimensional representations of stupas. One enters from the outside, is purified and as one progresses up the stupa or toward the center of the mandala where the deity is seated and wisdom is found.

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