Sacred Visions: Early Paintings from Central Tibet is the catalogue of a landmark exhibition of more than sixty of the finest extant Tibetan works from museums and private collections around the world. Closed to the West until the early twentieth century, Tibet was abruptly closed again in the 1950s by the Chinese. In spite of the loss of much of the staggering wealth of Tibetan monasteries and other monuments since that time, a number of masterpieces have survived in Western collections.
Brought together for the first time, many of the paintings have also never been published. In the catalogue, Steven M. Kossak and Jane Casey Singer discuss the individual works in regard to their style, iconography, provenance, and date. They explore and contextualize the painting of the eleventh to the fifteenth century, a formative period when Tibet enjoyed extraordinary cultural achievements. During this era, known as the Chidar, or "the later diffusion of the faith," Indian Buddhism became firmly established in Tibet. Thousands of Indian Buddhist texts were translated into Tibetan, hundreds of Buddhist monuments were built to adorn Tibet's vast landscape, and countless young men and women entered the ranks of burgeoning monastic orders. Initially, some of the finest extant paintings seem to have been commissioned from India by monasteries. These works were then used as models by Tibetan artists to create their own thankas, paintings on cloth. Beginning in the thirteenth century, Nepalese craftsmen began to be employed and Nepalese-style paintings became the dominant mode in the fourteenth and the early fifteenth century. It was not until the fifteenth century that Tibetans began to synthesize a truly indigenous mode of expression from these sources as well as from Chinese influences.
In the essays, Mr. Kossak analyzes the development of style and the chronology of the works; Ms. Singer explores the profound cultural ties between Tibet and eastern India, and, more briefly, between Tibet and Nepal. Robert Bruce-Gardner discusses the painting techniques of the period.