Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Painted Book Cover from Ancient Kashmir

A new article on the Asian Art ( website - A Painted Book Cover from Ancient Kashmir by Pratapaditya Pal. "The history of architecture and sculpture from Kashmir’s pre-Islamic past (1st c. BCE – 1300 CE) is well-apprised but nothing is known about painting. No example of pictorial art has yet come to light in the Valley of Kashmir. The purpose of this article is to discuss a painted panel in wood that was introduced in the recent exhibition of the arts of Kashmir. This painted panel is the only known object of its type that can be clearly traced to Kashmir itself and the artists there." (Publisher)

HAR History, Stats & Other Information (Part 1)

The Himalayan Art Resources website (HAR) was created by and is still funded by the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation. The site was begun in early 1997 and went live in September of the same year. At that time the site was known as the Tibet Art Project and used the Url 'tibetart dot com.' The Url and name were changed in 2001 to Himalayan Art Project and the current Url The name was changed again in 2004 after numerous academics complained about the use of the word 'project.' They suggested that the word 'project' implied something of a limited and finite duration. They apparently did not want HAR to be finished and wrapped up to soon. After that the name was changed again to Himalayan Art Resources which better described the actual work the site was doing and was more inclusive of the large number of countries, traditions and ethnic communities represented on the website.

Initially the people involved were Don and Shelley Rubin, Moke Mokotoff, Jane Casey Singer, Keith Bush, Chris Wilkinson and others. The web development was done primarily by Comvision of New York with input from web developers of Multiplan Inc. In the fall of 1997 I (Jeff Watt) was asked to provide content for the site but declined at that time because I felt the site was too faith based. There were only 625 images of paintings on the site at that time. In April of 1998 I was asked again to provide content for the site and slowly began to add descriptive write-ups to the individual works of art. At this time it was only paintings (tangkas). In 2000 and 2001 the site began to add sculpture and begin to distinguish between Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, etc. This was not an easy time.

In those early years Angela Powell, a Multiplan employee, did all of the scanning, numbering of images and uploading to the site. Ben Brinkley, hired by Shelley & Donald Rubin Cultural Trust in the fall of 1999 to start the development of an education department for the future Rubin Museum of Art, quickly became one of the most important assets in the development of the HAR website. Ben was also responsible for the creation of the Kids section of HAR.

In 2001 Tenzin Dharlo began work on HAR as the administrator followed by Pema Choephel as web developer in 2002. Soon after that Monty McKeever was hired as a summer intern, and then a returning intern, and then hired full time. His work and writing is well represented on the HAR site under the various miscellaneous, Jataka, and mahasiddha stories. David Pritzker was brought onto the HAR team in 2008 as an assistant curator after working with me for 2 years at the Rubin Museum of Art.

See two early articles about HAR: Virtual Treasures, The Himalayan Art Project to the Rescue by Joan Duncan Oliver (2003) and A Virtual Museum, Himalayan Art Resources by Barry Boyce (2005).

Angela Powell has moved on and is happily working in the health care industry. Ben Brinkley remains both a professional educator and web developer at a university on the West Coast. Monty Mckeever has returned to complete his college education. Pema Choephel is a professional web developer at a prestigious college in Oregon. Both Ben and Pema still consult for the HAR website and provide valuable advice when needed.

The staff of HAR has dwindled down because of the late 2008 economic situation. Tenzin Dharlo remains as administrator with Simon Chantasirivisal in charge of image management. David Pritzker will remain as a roving curator while traveling abroad. In 2009 HAR will be starting an unpaid Intern Program in the New York offices with the hope to maintain the level of image uploads on the site and to maintain the quality overall. (End of Part 1)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New Book: A Garland of Jewels

A GARLAND OF JEWELS: The Eight Great Bodhisattvas by Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche (Jamyang Namgyal, 1846–1912), translated by Yeshe Gyamtso.

It is very difficult to find information on the descriptions, iconography and history of the group of the Eight Great Bodhisattvas. This book is for those of you out there who are interested in the Bodhisattvas and what is actually written in the Sutras about them without having to read all of the Sutras yourself. A small number of interesting and useful Tantric quotes have also been included. Mipham was especially interested in Manjushri and it is not surprising to see that nearly half of the book is devoted to him. Mipham's text is based on the work of Zhuchen Tsultrim Rinchen (1697-1774) of Dege Gonchen Monastery. Zhuchen was the chief editor of the Dege Tangyur and one of the most important Lamas of Eastern Tibet in the 18th century.

"The great sutras of the Mahayana are repositories of extraordinary accounts of miracles and great deeds performed buddhas and bodhisattvas. Mipham's purpose in writing this book was to inspire us to emulate these great beings and to give us confidence in the effectiveness of the Mahayana path." (Publisher).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Odds & Ends

There has been a lot going on with the HAR site but it is mostly behind the scenes or additions to the various thematic and subject sets. This happens too often to notify everybody every time a small change is made. The Animal Relationships Guide/Glossary has been added to the Links/Glossary Resources Page. Now all of the glossaries are together. It has also been annotated with a few remaining entries still to add. The Jataka Animal Guide is still in process.

The HAR staff have been busy with cataloging several new museum collections to be uploaded to the site in the near future. Once we photograph an art collection, or receive digital images, it takes time and work to organize, number, upload and catalog. Currently we have approximately 10,000 images from scores of collections to be cataloged and uploaded. Deciding how to prioritize those collections is one of our ongoing challenges, a challenge we are grateful to have.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Maitreya Outline Page

The bodhisattva and next Buddha of this age is Maitreya (see the new Maitreya Outline Page). He is well represented in art both in painting and sculpture. There are two common but different appearances for depicting Maitreya. The first is as a bodhisattva wearing jewels and silks, often seated in a relaxed posture. The second is that of a fully enlightened Buddha having the major and minor marks, such as they appear in art. There are several other forms, based on literary sources, that can best be characterized as Tantric, or at least coming out of Tantric Traditions. They are not commonly found in art which probably attests to their lack of popularity as meditation practices. The most unique feature in the depictions of many of the Maitreya images are the two legs seated in a Western posture. Also, he will often be shown with a small stupa on the crown of the head.

Animal Relationships Guide

There are always many questions about animals and how they relate to different deities and symbol sets. This Animal Relationships Guide is a simple list intended to make the more common relationships clear. Also see the Animal Headed Gods & Deities and the Snakes & Serpents Outline Pages. In the set of Jataka & Avadana Stories there are a number of animal characters such as the story of how the rabbit came to be represented on the moon - A Tale of Generosity. These animals and the corresponding story titles with links will be made into a separate Animal Relationships Guide in the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dakini Scripts

Two new web links have been added to the Resource Tools Outline page: Dakini Scripts and Lantsha, Vartu and Other Indian Scripts. The Lantsha script is commonly used on the back of Tibetan paintings for writing the blessings and sanctifications. The Lantsha is also used on sculpture as decorative design elements on monk's robes and occasionally around the base of a sculpture. On this textile artwork note the Ranjana script along the border used to frame the tangka. The Kalachakra monogram, a series of mantra syllables, is almost always rendered in Ranjana script when appearing in paintings or repousse sculpture.

Wisdom Calendar 2009

The new Wisdom Calendar for 2009 is available from Wisdom Publications. We have listed the subject name for each of the paintings on the HAR Wisdom Calendar Page. They are not yet added to the database. This will happen in the next few days. All of the paintings represented are from the Guimet Museum Collection, Paris, France. There are some excellent examples of late Guge style painting as well as unique iconographic forms such as the Guru Dragpo Heruka painting.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Resource Tools, Calendars & Number Sets

The outline page for Resource Tools has been updated with new links and new sections. The Tibetan Language Section now has a Wylie Transliteration link. The Calendars Section has a Chinese Dynasty Guide and two new resources for the Tibetan Lunar Calendar: 1) Holy Days, and 2) Anniversaries. There are still more dates to add to both of these pages. The problem is in tracking down the dates and then having them confirmed. So far there are no Bon, Hindu or Newar Buddhist date entries.

The Lists Section of Resource Tools is new and has two updated items. The first, Iconography Source Texts & Examples, is only new to this outline page. The second item is an expanded and updated version of the Number Sets & Lists. Previously it had been embedded in the Index Page under the letter 'N.' It became too large for the Index and now has a dedicated page.

To accompany the new Tibetan Lunar Calendar Pages an Astrology Art Outline was created. For many of these new Outline Pages and resources numerous 'thematic set' pages were also created in the HAR database in order to contextualize the related images and subjects: for example the Sidpaho Protection Charts for the Astology Outline, The Three Small Red Ones for the Number Sets & Lists, and List of Lamdre Lineage Teachers for the Lamdre Lineage Art Sets Outline, and many, many more.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lamdre Lineage Art Sets

Most of the paintings depicting an individual, or several individuals, in one composition are invariably from lineage sets. At any given time sets of paintings in total number are likely to account for more than half of all Himalayan and Tibetan style art. On the HAR site we have already tried to put the Arhat sets of paintings back together where ever possible. Amongst the various 'Lama' sets there are many paintings that belong to the Lamdre lineage, an important subject of the Sakya Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The Lamdre Lineage Outline Page organizes some of these partial sets and makes the work of recognizing new Lamdre paintings easier. There are currently more Lamdre images in the queue waiting to be uploaded onto the HAR website. Many more images are known but HAR hasn't yet been able to gain the required permissions to exhibit these images on the website.

Additions & Updates

The main Sakya Outline Page has been re-worked. Added to this at the bottom, as you already saw, is the Sakya Protectors Outline Page. Linked to that is a new outline page for Panjarnata Mahakala. There is still more work to be done on that subject. Also new to the Sakya Outline Page is the Monasteries & Branch Schools outline. This new page will become more meaningful and develop as more images are uploaded in the next few weeks and months. We currently have several thousand images from locations in Central and West Tibet waiting to be uploaded.

The Mural Paintings of Tibet outline became way too large and had to be split into several pages: main page, Eastern Tibet (Kham, Amdo), Central Tibet, Western Tibet. More mural images and new locations are ready to be uploaded to the HAR site. These outline pages will probably have to change again soon to accommodate all of the new images.

With the Mural Paintings of Tibet page there are also many outside shots of the buildings and caves that house the murals. In an attempt to simplify the topic of architecture the important subjects and types have been grouped together on the Architecture Outline Page. This will need to be re-worked as the technical vocabulary and terms are sorted out and standardized.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sakya Protectors Outline Page

A new outline page for Sakya Protectors has been added to the HAR site. There is a lot more explanation that needs to accompany each of these protectors, and or, their larger classifications, such as the classifications of Mahakala, Shri Devi, the Three Kings, etc. The image on the left is of the goddess Ekajati, the mother of Mahakala and Shri Devi, from the system of Panjarnata Mahakala according to the Vajrapanjara Tantra. She is included as one of the retinue figures in the Eight Deity Panjarnata practice. She is also included in the Three Deity Panjarnata practice of the Sakya Tradition.

There are many deities represented in the various, Buddhist, Bon and Hindu traditions of the Himalayas that have the same name and sometimes a similar appearance. These deities are not always the same in origin myth, form or function. Great care and sensitivity must be used when recognizing a specific deity along with explaining that deity from the side of the tradition it belongs in.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Navigation On The Site

Please go to the bottom of the page and let us know by using the POLL how easy it is to use the HAR website. We are currently going through and cleaning up confusing pathways and broken links. We are also moving towards a new Home Page that is clearer and easier to navigate but are not yet ready to unveil these changes.

Your input is desired and asked for. You are also welcome to post a comment about how you feel the website can be improved. In the past when we have asked for user response and comments we rarely got anything except positive feedback. We like positive comments but that is not what we are looking for here. We want to hear your ideas for improvements to the site, or suggestions about content that you feel should be added to the site. We have our own ideas, now it is up to you to share your ideas with us.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Collections on the Site

Sometimes I don't think that visitors to the site are aware of how many different museums, institutions and private collections are actually represented on HAR. There is an Outline Page titled Collections Worldwide that lists all of these different collections. For many of the museums we have formal agreements and received the images directly from them, in some cases along with stipulations as to attribution and dating. There are some museums listed on the outline page that we are still trying to include on the site. These collections will not have a HAR link icon following their name.

We don't have formal relationships with all of the museums. For some we have simply taken digital photographs of the Himalayan objects that are on display in their galleries such as for the National Museum of India, the Capital Museum in Beijing, and others. This is only done in museums that allow photography, generally without the use of a camera flash.

There are well over one hundred Private & Photographic Archive Collections on the site. The first thing that you will probably think is that there aren't one hundred names listed on the page just provided. This is true. Most of the private collections prefer to be anonymous and are found under the title of Private Collections and on the outline page are found under the heading of Unnamed Collections. Probably it would be more clear and accurate if we change this to Anonymous Collections. All of theses collections come from all over the world. Some are professionally photographed and others are not. The Photographic Archives are generally collections of images taken of art in situ of murals or architecture in the Himalayan regions, Tibet, Mongolia, etc.

Other museum collection resources on the site can be found through the HAR Links page. Under Subject there are three museum listings : Museums Asia, Museums Europe, and Museums North America. Under North America also see USA Museums by State. These pages were the first attempt by HAR some years ago to try and locate collections of Himalayan art around the world and make them more widely known. These lists are are in desperate need of updating and are quite inaccurate by today's standards and what is currently known. We will try and have these updated in November.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Newsletter: August - October 2008

Well, we finally finished and got the August - October Newsletter mailed out to the HAR e-mail subscription list. Four times a year doesn't sound like a lot for a newsletter but when you have to put it together each time and keep track of all the new additions and changes then it can seem like a lot of work. Possibly the Blog will make the announcement of HAR changes and additions easier and maybe down the road the quarterly newsletter will become redundant. We'll have to wait and see.

What's in the newsletter? The most important new feature, as you already know, is the Blog. There are also several new collections added to the site and a number of new and changed Outline Pages, also called Topic Outlines. The section Iconography: Deities & Subjects became too big and the contents list was split into two pages to fit on an average monitor without too much scrolling. There should be a number of new additions to this section in the near future. There is a stack of hand drawn outline pages waiting to be typed up and posted on the site. If any of you have wondered what program we use to make the outline pages then look to the Mindjet website and a program called Mind Manager. There are a number of similar advanced image mapping programs out there but until proven otherwise Mind Manager is the best for our purposes.

There is a lot of trial and error with this site because we are trying to do two things. First, the site is a database of images from collections around the world. Secondly, it is a knowledge base where we try and provide as much information as possible (in reality as time allows) as well as placing the objects and subjects into a larger context. The Topic Outline Pages are the principal means that we use to try and do this contextualization.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hats: Who's who in the world of hats?

Hats are actually a big deal in religion and art. In art they help us to identify particular people, hierarchy and religious traditions. They also help us track hats in different paintings and sculpture over time (art history) and help to determine the age of particular works of art, and why, because hats change over time. More importantly hats are fun, weird and sometimes strange. What about the black hat of the Karmapas supposedly made from the hair of one hundred thousand Dakinis? What's a Dakini?

There is also the raven topped crown of the king of Bhutan. This hat is based on a religious hat used in fearsome protection rituals. How did it end up on the head of a king in a kingdom that still exists? How many Himalayan kingdoms are left?

Hats are interesting and each has a story about how it came about, why it has a certain colour and shape, and who can and who can't wear the hat. It is very much a staus thing. The hat in the image on the left is the special hat of the Mindroling hierarchs and in this case worn by Terdag Lingpa Gyurme Dorje in a very rare Tibetan portrait painting.

Look to Hats of the Himalayas for an overview of the different hats and the traditions to which they belong. This is just a preliminary look and a lot more work needs to be done. What is very important to remember is that hats are one of the most important iconographic keys in the study, identification and recognition of Himalayan and Tibetan teachers. Hats, who knew!

First Post

This is the first post of the HAR blog site. The intention of this new site is to create an open forum in which we might discuss all matters concerned with Himalayan art.