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The Nepalese Legacy

A talk by curator David Jackson

Thursday, April 28, 2011
7:00 PM–8:30 PM

With the destruction of Indian Buddhism in 1203, Tibet’s previous source of artistic inspiration was wiped out. Tibetan artists then turned to Nepal, the only nearby surviving center of traditional Buddhist art, and also home to the Newar artists of the Kathmandu Valley who were well known and sought out for their extraordinary skill in painting, sculpture, and woodworking.
Like Tibetan artists, the Newars originally followed a local Indian style, but had since gradually developed their own distinctive style. Within a generation after the disappearance of Indian Buddhism, Tibetans had copied and learned the Newar style, or Beri as it is now known. The style took root and existed for over four centuries, reaching its height from 1360-1460 when it was adopted as Tibet’s universal painting style.
Earlier scholars tended to oversimplify geographical range and sectarian scope of the Beri style, assuming that the majority of Beri paintings were commissioned by the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism. As a result, a number of important Beri works have hitherto been misidentified as Sakya art. Jackson seeks to correct the erroneous limitation of the Beri style to the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism, and to demonstrate the full extent of its chronological development, religious patronage, and geographic scope.
In this keytalk, Jackson focuses on the key features of head nimbuses and throne backs in the Beri Style. One easily noticeable stylistic difference between the Nepalese inspired Beri and the Indian-inspired Pala or Sharri painting styles of Tibet is their treatment of head nimbuses. In paintings of peaceful deities, the head nimbuses in the early Nepalese style are fairly simple, made up of thin, monochrome strips. Head nimbuses in the Eastern Indian painting style are, by contrast, more complicated and colorful. Such nimbuses are a good point of departure for examining differences in the adjoining throne backs. Through them, we can begin to appreciate concretely the differences between these sometimes similar looking styles, and we will even be able to trace later paintings in which those styles became, for a while, badges of sectarian identity.
David Jackson was Professor of Tibetan Studies at Hamburg University 1992-2007. He is the author of A Saint in Seattle, Tibetan Thangka Painting, and A History of Tibetan Painting. At the Rubin Museum of Art he is curating a series of exhibitions with accompanying catalogs in a “Masterworks of Tibetan Painting” series. The first was Patron and Painter: Situ Panchen and the Revival of the Encampment Style (2009).The third in the series, Mirror of the Buddha: Early Painted Portraits from Tibet, is due to open October 21. He receivedhis doctorate from the University of Washington’s department of Asian Languages and Literature in 1985.