Tuesday, April 25, 2006

China | Beijing | Anige's Stupa

By the mid-1650s the young Zanabazar, First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia, had solidified his role as the head of the Buddhist religion in Mongolia. He now turned his attention to artistic endeavors. His artistic proclivities had surfaced at an early age. Even as a tiny tot he spent much of his time constructing replicas of temples, fashioning small statues of Buddhas, and drawing portraits of great lamas. During his first trip to Lhasa in (1649–1651) he made a point of collecting examples of Tibetan Buddhist art, including statues of Maitreya, Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara), and Tara from Puntsokling Monastery, the home of his previous incarnation, Taranatha, head of the Jonang Sect, and he would have had a chance to met with and observe the work of the artisans, many of whom were from Nepal, who were at that time constructing and remodeling the Potala, the Dalai Lama’s great palace, and adorning it with a wide variety of Buddhist art. He may also at this time had an opportunity to study, if he had not already done so in Mongolia, the Tanjur, a huge compendium of Buddhist commentaries which included detailed instructions on the creation of Buddhist art according to the classical canons.

When he returned to Mongolia in 1651 he brought with him a entourage of over 600 individuals which included not only monks of the Gelug sect, to which he had just been converted, but an assortment of artists, painters, and other craftsmen to help him build and adorn new monasteries in Mongolia. Among this group may have been Newari artisans from Nepal. As art historian Patricia Berger notes, “We can surmise (if we cannot assume) that bronze casters, probably Newari, were included in this group . . . for the sophistication of Zanabazar’s own casting technique cannot have sprung untutored from him alone, while the Newari were undisputed masters of the craft, not just in Nepal but also in Tibet.”

Newari-Nepalese artisans had influenced Sino-Mongolian art as far back as the reign of Khubilai, grandson of Chingis Khan and founder of the Yuan Dynasty, when the Tibetan lama Phagspa, who had been appointed the “Imperial Preceptor,” or head of Buddhism, under Khubilai, invited the Nepalese artist-monk Anige and a twenty-four of his fellow Newari artists to the new Mongol capital at what is now Beijing. Here Anige and his followers introduced to the Mongols a new Nepalese-inspired style of Tibetan Buddhist art. “The earliest Tibetan pantheon known to the Mongols, notes one art historian, “was that of the Newari school, expressed in the artistic idiom of the Newari, or Belri style, as it was called in Tibet.” Anige eventually turned in his monk’s robes and became head of the Directorate-General of Artisans for the Mongol court. He himself made a statue of Mahakala for Khubilai and a golden Mahakala for Phagspa. Although quite famous their time, both these works subsequently disappeared.

Indeed, few of the works of Anige and his school survived until Zanabazar’s time, and there is no direct evidence Zanabazar saw any of them, but art historians have noted the apparent influence of Anige’s aesthetic in the delicate detailing of the Necklaces, Armbands, Bracelets, and Other Ornaments on Zanabazar’s own statues. In any case, the influence of Anige and his school continued on in Tibet up until at least the seventeenth century, when Zanabazar himself visited Lhasa, and the Newari artists he met there and perhaps brought back to Mongolia with him in his entourage would have been familiar with the style of art originally developed by the Newari artist.

One of Aniga’s works has survived in current-day Beijing. This is the famous White Stupa of Miaoying Temple in western Beijing, built by order of Khubilai Khan in 1271. The 167-foot high stupa still looms above the surrounding apartment buildings and hutongs and still attracts numerous pilgrims, sightseers, and others seeking a quiet respite from the hubbub just outside the temple grounds.
The White Stupa from the entrance to the temple grounds
The White Stupa
White Stupa
Prayer flags in front of the temple
White Stupa from the hutongs behind the temple complex

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