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Tibetan Buddhist Art furniture & Antiques from the monasteries of the Ser Shong (Golden Valley)
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Tibetan Buddhist High Lama's Offering Altar B006-01

Antique Tibetan Furniture from high lama residence circa 1410 AD
unpainted side view of antique Tibetan furniture paint on the front only
Perspective view
side view
Tibetan Antique offering cabinet circa 1410 AD with Chinese rank insignias
Top of tibetan Buddhist antique furniture
Front view


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Large Tibetan Buddhist hand painted offering cabinet made for the High Lama at one of the two Sange monasteries, with a golden pheasant on the upper doors and dragons on both lower doors. There are no drawers on this cabinet; the lower doors open up to the space behind where drawers were inserted in later cabinets. The panels to the side of each door have a green 4-petaled flower, while the center bottom panel has a royal blue one. The bottom two panels adjacent to the blue 4-petaled flower each have the Auspicious Treasure Vase. Read the iconography for details. The art work is all done in kyungbur with plenty of 24 kt gold. This offering cabinet or altar has been in the work shop for many decades. The cleaning of Tibetan art over 400 years old is extremely difficult and many times impossible without adding great cost to the item. The art work on the front has been preserved with an acrylic coating.

The size of this Tibetan Buddhist offering cabinet along with the icons would suggest that it was made for a the High lama at either the upper or lower Sange Monastery and from an Imperial Chinese patron. The dragon and in particular the golden pheasant depictions indicate an official Imperial Chinese patronage, in keeping with the Choyon of 1244 AD with Godan Khan, as does the styling of the front frame. There is an abundant use of 24kt gold on the frame, figures and flora. In 1403 AD the Ming Emperor Yongtzen moved the capital from Xi'an to Beijing and built the Forbidden City, in this construction project there was the Sun and Moon Pagoda that the Emperor hired 50 artists from Sange monastery to decorate. He was so pleased with the work that he issued a proclamation extolling their artistic prowess, "Wujitong", meaning from Tibet: from that time forward the artists were referred to as Wutun artists. It is quite probable that this and another similar antique Tibetan piece of furniture B015 were made for the High Lamas at both Sange Monasteries. In the history of the Lower Sange Monastery that I had translated by a graduate student at Qinghai University two High Lamas were mentioned as receiving gifts from the Yongle Emperor, although the exact mature of those gifts was not disclosed. There is a partial list of gifts and payments to the artist monks that worked on the Forbidden city, which includes, fine cloth and mineral pigments. Please note that the upper and lower monasteries are part of the same monastery, though each has its own high lama. The upper monastery was founded after the lower monastery ws partially destroyed by a devastating mudslide in 1385 or 1386 AD. Some of the surviving monks decided to build away from the mountain side a safe distance and thus the upper monastery came into existence.

This cabinet comes with a brush-signed Certificate of Authenticity.

AGE: early 15th century  (1400-1410 AD)    
Dimensions:   Height=39"  W=44.5" D=15" 


B006-01 Price $3475.00,  plus shipping & handling: West Coast $440, Mtn. States $470, Mid West $490, Atlantic coast $535 Canadian destinations, contact us  for a quote. ~~~~This ships Over The Road, with a common carrier (Oak Harbor in most cases).  


The 24kt 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.

This cabinet's iconography will be viewed differently than others: the entirety of the icons paints a picture of Imperial Chinese patronage at the level of the Emperor. Therefore I will discuss the total picture and skip the usual iconographic theme element by element.

The doors of this cabinet are quite interesting; a golden pheasant on the upper doors and a Chinese depiction of a dragon on the lower doors. The depiction of the golden pheasant and the Dragon match well with the extant ranking insignia worn by Chinese officials, and always only by decree of the Ming Emperors. It is important to also note here that the dragon only has 4 claws, this is also a prohibition by the Ming Dynasty that was reversed in 1644 by the Qing dynasty, which allowed 5 clawed dragons. The two upper panels with the green 4-petaled flower are adorned with golden oak leaves as is the center bottom panel with the blue 4-petaled flower. To see one or possibly two of these elements in Tibetan Buddhist art is not uncommon, but to see this grouping is most unusual, especially the single gold Cintamani with the very unusual flames and the series of waves under the mountains. The dragon represented the Emperor and heaven. The 4 clawed dragon was an insignia given to ministers: the golden pheasant was the 2nd highest highest insignia for civil officials. Everything taken together, (with the similar cabinet of the same age and iconography, this is not iconography that Tibetan Buddhist artists would have undertaken on their own, rather it appears to be honorific depictions bestowed upon the High Lama(s) at Sange Monastery for the excellent art work accomplished during construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing by the Sange artists. While this is conjecture on the author's part it, fits where no other explanation will do, too many elements of the Imperial Court to be made for a Chinese consumer and also too many for a Tibetan Buddhist to commission, this really only leaves the Emperor of China to commission it as a thank you gift to the High Lama at Sange Monastery for the great art work done by the monks.

Note on the Ming imperial insignia; the right to have the insignia was bestowed personally by the Ming Emperor and having the rank did not automatically bestow the right to use the insignia and one could loose their rank by unauthorized use of the insignia.

The panels to the sides of the doors and the bottom panels are very typical Tibetan; the 4-petaled flower representing the 4 noble truths; the Zipak representing the overcoming of greed and the 3 Cintamani representing wisdom and the body speech and mind of Buddha.


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