Featured Acquisition from the 2020 Gift of Alice S. Kandell

In 2020, Alice S. Kandell continued to add to the ensemble of objects that form her extraordinary 2010 gift to the museum, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery’s Tibetan Buddhist shrine. Tibetan Buddhist shrines are portals that bridge the mundane and the sacred worlds. They are spaces in which devotees make offerings to buddhas (enlightened beings) and in turn receive protection, guidance, or help along the path toward enlightenment.

One of the most remarkable objects in this year’s gift is a sky canopy. Within Tibetan shrines, canopies of silk or cotton are hung over the heads of deities, ritual objects, and advanced practitioners in order to create a divine sky. This particular example is unusually elaborate. Scores of amulets, each containing a mantra (sacred syllables) or prayer written in Tibetan script, hang from its interior. Some of the amulets feature paintings of deities as well as mantras on wooden supports. Moreover, small rectangular paintings (tsakali) of Buddhist deities are attached to the outside of the canopy. The amulets and tsakali, both spiritually potent, not only indicate that the canopy was located above a particularly sacred entity, but also hold clues to its use and location. Together they provide a unique opportunity for new insights into Tibetan Buddhist practice.

sky canopy with small paintingsSky canopy with small paintings
Tibet, possibly 18th century
Fabric; pigment on paper, cloth, and wood
87.6 × 102.6 × 62.2 cm (34 1/2 × 40 3/8 × 24 1/2 in)
The Alice S. Kandell Collection
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery