The Review│18th / 19th Century Nagthang of Panjara Mahakala and Brahmanarupa Mahakala

Auction House: Sotheby's
Sale: Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Works of Art Including Property from The Cleveland Museum of Art (N09665)
Lot No.: 239
Estimate: US$80,000 - 120,000
Size: 104.1 cm* 64.7 cm
Provenance: Acquired privately in Mumbai between 1961 and 1965.
Condition: Framed in original silk mount. Wear and creasing throughout with scattered vertical areas of striation to textile.


When mentioning Buddhist art, large and small statues first come to our minds; but certainly, thangkas are also of great importance, in terms of both artistic value and market value. In 2014, an imperial embroidered silk thangka depicting the wrathful Raktayamari was sold for a total price of HK$348,440,000 by Christie's Hong Kong, and it has become the most expensive Chinese artwork ever in auction history. This time in New York, the black thangka (nagthang) as demostrated above is worth the market's attention.

Thangkas can be catagorized according to their different base colours, such as gold thangkas, red thangkas, and etc. Among all of them, the black ones are the rarest, that makes this thangka eye-catching in the first place. In addition to the special base colour, the coexsistence of two forms of  Mahakala in the depiction is extremely uncommon. The Mahakala on the top, Panjara Mahakala, is the typical form of the wrathful protector; and the one below is a derived form, which is usually hidden from the uninitiated pagoda visitors.

In addition to the base colour and the central figures of portrayal, the importantce of a thangka depends on the drawings. Filled wholely with different goddnesses, lineages and animals, this nagthang shows fine and careful depiction of details.