Michael Henss has studied European art history and classical archaeology at Bonn and Vienna universities. He now lives in Zurich. Some 30 years ago he moved to Asian and especially Tibetan art and is now an independent scholar. Since 1980 he made over 20 academic excursions to Tibet and has done extensive field studies in the Himalayan countries. Among his book publications are "The Cultural Monuments of Tibet" (1981), "Kalachakra. A Tibetan Initiation Ritual" (last ed. 2002) and "Mustang A Guide Book and Cultural History" (last ed. 1999), all in German language. After many years of research he is currently completing a two volumes handbook on "The Cultural Monuments of Tibet. The Central Regions" (in English). He lectures regularly on Tibetan, Buddhist and Asian art and culture, and has published numerous articles in academic journals.
This book has been prepared with the intention of making available to a wider readership two earlier exhibition and book reviews in a revised and enlarged form with many more illustrations. This format also allows for greater exploration of some of these essential subjects that were raised by the presented material and by its interpretation. By focussing on sculptures and painting it will provide the reader with some updated insights of our current knowledge on the ancient cultural relics in pre- sent-day Tibet and thus is supposed to offer more than just a report on two specific publications.
The review article on the German exhibition and its book Tibet - Monasteries Open Their Treasure Rooms, arguably the most significant presentation of Buddhist art from Tibet ever shown in the West, initially was written for The Tibet Journal (where it will be soon published in the original unrevised edition), an academic magazine on Tibetan studies edited in Dharamsala, India. This periodical, while it has a high academic reputation, does not, however, reach many more than the inner circle of Tibetologists and their related institutions, and hardly all other, who are particularly interested in the art of the Himalayas. This review was also presented online in late 2007 (www.asianart.com) with some thirty illustrations - but again, likely will be read only by those readers who know and use this internet journal. A more comprehensive version has therefore been requested, all the more since this exhibition presented many important cultural relics, which only have been on public display in the Lhasa Tibet Museum or in the Potala Palace, and in some monasteries often visited by Tibetan, Chinese and foreign pilgrims and travellers.
It has also been suggested that a more detailed discussion of the treasures shown at the German Tibet exhibition in the Villa Hugel Museum, Essen, and in the Museum for Asian Art, Berlin, will be particularly appreciated by the non-German readers of the 664 pages catalogue- handbook, of which no English edition exists.
When Oriental Art (Singapore) had published my review on Ul- rich von Schroeder's Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet in 2003, it became clear that this once very reputated scholarly Asian art journal did no longer reach the majority of the experts and connoisseurs in the field, and it was hardly known to the special afficionados and collectors of Tibetan Buddhist art. In view of the fundamental importance of this extremely useful reference work, which will be of value for decades to come, a republication cum ADDENDUM may help to provide further assistance and insight.
Since my earlier survey on the cultural monuments in present-day Tibet was published (in German: Tibet. Die Kulturdenkmdler. Zurich 1981) soon after foreign visitors had been allowed to visit Lhasa and beyond for the first time (1980), several years passed by before some Western and Chinese books or major articles documented in greater detail the cultural relics in the Central Regions of D and Tsang provinces (dbUs and gTsang).
First among the local archaeologists and art historians in Lhasa to explore and publish Tibetan art and architecture was Sonam Wangdu (bSod nams dbang 'dus, see the bibliography - also for other authors and publications - in my forthcoming The Cultural Monuments of Tibet. The Central Regions), whose various books and articles from the 1980s and early 1990s were published in Tibetan and Chinese only. - A few years after the then still existing monasteries and palaces had reopened their doors for pilgrims and foreign visitors a first exhibition of precious painted scrolls from the Potala Palace was presented to the public in the Summer Palace of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, accompanied by a well illustrated book, Xizang Thangka (Beijing 1985 and 2005). A profusely illustrated Chinese pictorial encyclopedia "Zang Chuan Fojiao Yishu" (Tianjin 1987) and its English translation Buddhist Art of the Tibetan Plateau (Hongkong 1988) compiled by Liu Lizhong provided a first more comprehensive visual survey on monasteries and monuments. Roberts Vitali's ground breaking Early Temples of Central Tibet (London 1990) followed as the first modern scholarly book in a Western language based on field studies and extensively on Tibetan text sources. Vitali documented such hitherto unseen rareties as the earliest monumental image groups still to exist at 'On ke ru Lha khang (8th and 9th century) or the unique late 11th century wall-paintings at Drathang, both not far from Samye monastery. Other chapters are dedicated to the early eastern section of the Lhasa Jokhang, the surviving 11th century statuary at Yemar to the South of Gyantse, the extensive mural cycles at Shalu, which date to the 11th through 14th century, and the Riwoche Kumbum stupa with its painted decorations in the remote western part of southern Tibet, where it was constructed by the multi-talented engineer-mahasiddha Thangtong Gyalpo in 1449-1456.
In the tradition of Guiseppe Tucci the two Italian scholars Erberto Lo Bue and Franco Ricca dedicated their research to the Gyantse monuments. The books written by these authors, Gyantse Revisited (Firenze 1990), and The Great Stupa of Gyantse (London 1993), have become essential reference works, particularly on the "Kumbum", since then. A useful addition to this subject with many more high-quality plates of the paintings and statues is The Kumbum of Gyantse Palcho Monastery in Tibet by Xiong Wenbin (Chengdu 2001), a leading Chinese Tibetologist- art historian at the China Tibetology Research Center in Beijing.
Regettably fue essential Archaeological Studies on Monuments of Tibetan Buddhism (Zang Zhuan Fojiao Siyuan Kaogu, Beijing 1996) written by Su Bai, a renowned Han-Chinese specialist on Tibetan art, have been published only in Chinese. Illustrated by numerous plans and a number of historical photographs this summa of Su Bai's Tibetan research in art and architecture comprises chapters on the Lhasa Jokhang and Ramoche, Drepung and Sera, the Gyantse Kumbum, Narthang, some monuments in the Lhoka and Shigatse areas. the temples at Tholing and Tsaparang, manuscript collections in the Potala and at Sakya monastery, as well as chapters on Tibetan style paintings along the Silk Road such as Zhangye, Wuwei, Yulin, Dunhuang and in Xixia, or on Yuan dynasty buildings and sculptures like the giant Tibetan Baita stupa in Beijing (1271-78), or Juyong Guan gate and its relief carvings, which is located further to the North (1342-45). - Other Chinese scholars, including Huo Wei and Li Yongxian, both from Sichuan University, Chengdu, have focussed their rsearch on prehistoric petroglyphs (Art of Tibetan Rock Paintings, Xizang Yanhua Yishu. Chengdu 1994), to the tombs of early Tibetan kings (Research on the Burial Systems in Ancient Tibet. Xizang Gudai Muzang Zhi Du Yanjiu. Chengdu 1995), or to sPu rgyel dynasty rock carvings in the eastern Tibetan cultural areas of Sichuan province. Other experts like Xu Xinguo, of the Qinghai Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Xining, supervised and published burial treasures from excavations in the Tibetan-Hari Chinese borderlands in northern Tibet.
Among the younger generation of the Beijing-based Tibetan art historians, to name a few in this selective survey of those conducting research on cultural relics in the TAR, Xie Jisheng (Capital Normal University, Beijing) has published widely on Tibeto-Chinese and Sino-Tibetan art, mainly from Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia and adjacent areas. Zhang Yasha's (Central University for Nationalities, Beijing) investigations on the Yemar sculptures and on the wall-paintings at Drathang presented a remarkable interpretation from a Chinese perspective, though potentially challenged in the light of Western publications (Vitali, Rhie, Heller, Henss).
Puntsok amgyal (phun tshogs r am rgyal), formerly Deputy Director of the Cultural Relics Bureau in Lhasa, is the author of three well- illustrated books with Chinese and English text introductions on the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery Bkra sis lhum po (Beijing 1998), n Tho ling Monastery (Beijing 2001), and on The Potala Palace (Beijing 2002). The only more comprehensive documentation on the Potala Palace with 380 illustrations, many excellent plans and details about the large scale renovation in 1989-94 was published in Chinese, Xizang Budala Gong (the Potala Palace in Tibet, 2 vols., Beijing 1996), yet does not appear to have come to the knowledge of Western readers. Two more Potala books from China have proved useful for further studies: Gems of the Potala Palace (Budala Gong Mibao, Beijing 1999), a large album with 375 excellent plates and informative captions, and A Mirror of the Murals in the Potala (Budala Gong Bihua Yuan Liu, Beijing 2000) with 200 illustrations of the wall-paintings from mid-LZ'!' to early 19th century and a readable trilingual text. While only part of the Potala paintings are accessible to the public (and now even less than before), a systematic and comprehensive documentation in text and illustration would be needed, additional to the well done photographic survey mentioned above. - A recently published album, «The Celestial Palace of the Gods of Tantric Vajra Yana" (Beijing 2004) with excellent reproductions of 158 mandala paintings in the Potala Palace collection has hardly become known to Western scholars. It comprises two sets of 45 and 65 mandalas painted at the time of the Eighth Dalai Lama (1758-1804) by the same workshop around 1800, and additional 48 mandalas mostly of the Nyingmapa tradition and dating to the 19th century.
Photographic albums were published in Beijing on Tasbilbunpo Monastery, edited by Meng Zi and Liao Pin (1993), Sera Thekchen Ling (1995), and Zhaibung Monastery (Drepung; 1999), with partly "popular" or questionably "scholarly" texts. A well-researched monograph on Nechung monastery by Franco Ricca, Il Tempio oracolare di gNas chung, may not have found sufficient readers due to its exclusive Italian language publication (Torino 1999). Monographic studies by the same author do exist for books on Shalu monastery (in collaboration with Lionel Fournier) and on the Gyantse Tsuglagkhang, but have not been published yet. A fine book with masterful photographs of the extraordinary tantric Dzogchen wall-paintings in the small Lu khang sanctuary on the Naga King's Lake (kLu rGyal po mtsho) lake island behind the Potala by Ian Baker and Thomas Laird, The Dalai Lama's Secret Temple (London 2000), makes these painted treasures of the 18th century - now in danger of damage and decay and not accessible for the public - literally, or rather visually, more impressive than when standing in front of the original murals.
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Tantric Buddhism (90)
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