Rich heritage that has been preserved through long centuries

Buddhist Art exhibition, from the collections of the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg, on show in Minsk

Buddhist Art exhibition, from the collections of the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg, on show in Minsk

The St. Petersburg collection of arts is rightfully considered to be one of the richest worldwide and such an exhibition is a unique opportunity for residents and guests of the city to get acquainted with the artistic heritage of the Buddhist culture, which unites a whole range of countries and regions of Asia. The implementation of such a large-scale project can be seen as a new stage of co-operation between the National Art Museum of Belarus and the State Hermitage.

Buddhist Art exhibition from the collections of the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg

As part of the exhibition project, 170 works of Buddhist art have arrived in Minsk: sculptures, picturesque pieces, depictions of astrological rituals, stupas, ritual items from Tibet, China, Nepal, Mongolia, Buryatia and Bhutan. The age of the exhibits is truly impressive, with the oldest of them dating back to the 12th-13th centuries.

The central work of the exhibition is a sculpture of the Avalokiteśvara, a bodhisattva of mercy. According to the legend, under his guidance, a special spiritual culture was created making Tibet a kind of ‘realm of mercy’, a centre of Buddhist culture for the whole world.

Buddhism began to spread in Tibet in the 7th century and penetrated here via Nepal, India, China and Eastern Turkestan. The art of these regions has significantly influenced the formation of the art traditions of Tibet: Buddhism brought new ideas about the perfect beauty of deities and has strict iconographic canons. Whilst observing these iconographic rules however, the craftsmen have re-analysed the images of deities in their own way and introduced ethnic features into holy faces while adding national peculiarities into the decorative details.

A deity, the colour of its body, pose, gestures and decorations — all have particular meaning, understandable to each adept and regulated by iconographic and iconometric canons, as well as by the structure of the Buddhist pantheon. Often Tibetan painting and sculpture were created for ordinary, illiterate people for whom this set of symbols was clear. Sculptures, presented at the current exhibition, correspond to the classes of the Buddhist pantheon: teachers, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, female deities, Yi-dam, Dharmapāla, Dakini, Lokapāla and lower deities. Special iconography exists for each category. Alongside sculpture, the exhibition also showcases the works of Tibetan Buddhist painting, known as thangka.

A thangka is a scroll written with mineral paints on a cotton or silk appliqué, first rough-painted with a mixture of chalk and glue. These were hung in churches and houses and were used in religious processions. They were written to perform a definite ritual (in the case of the death of a family member for example, during diseases and troubles, as well as a tribute to the deity). In line with the canon, definite compositions are used in Tibetan painting.

At present, Tibet is an autonomous area in China but craftsmen still create Buddhist monuments, using medieval canons.

Exhibits that provoke emotions in everyone

The exhibition in Minsk will last until early November and will then move to Gomel where it will be displayed at Gomel’s Palace and Park Estate until the end of January 2017.

By Vladimir Mikhailov
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