Nicholas Notovitch and the "Jesus Thangka"

by Terry Anthony

Part 2

This one, in fair condition, at first appeared a typical example until I took a closer look. "Looks like Jesus", I said. "Or someone who looks like Jesus", he said with a physical start, almost interrupting me. He was suddenly agitated, and we debated the point for awhile. He appeared unable to accept what was obvious to me and I finally asked if it was for sale. He said it was, so I bought it on the spot. He almost seemed relieved to be rid of it.

The work consists of six scenes or "teaching story" images taken from the life of a known "avatar" or "worthy master". Such works commonly focus on the Buddha, local Himalayan religious personalities, Indian masters, or other Asian religious notables.

[Above: Full panel of the tapestry showing two scenes from the life of Jesus.]

[Left: Figure 5 Left panel in detail. The transfiguration of Jesus.]

[Above: Figure 2 Right of panel in detail. Jesus with the children.]

This may be the only known pre-Chinese conquest thangka of a teacher from the Middle East. Two or three thangkas of Jesus have been produced in recent years, one actually commissioned by the Dalai Lama.

The scenes, five of six being obviously biblically referenced, moving clockwise beginning with the upper right scene, are as follows:

1. "Jesus calms the storm", Luke 8: 22-25, Mark 4: 35-41, Matthew 8: 23-27.

2. "Jesus with the little children", Luke 18: 15-17, Mark 10: 13-16, Matthew 19: 13-15.

3. "Jesus enters Jerusalem", Luke 19: 29-44, Mark 11: 1-11, Matthew 21: 10-11 & 14-17, John 11: 55, 12: 1, & 12: 12-19.

4. "Jesus, Mary, and Martha", Luke 10: 38-42.

5. "The Transfiguration", Matthew 17: 1-8, Mark 9: 2-10.

6. "Jesus in the Himalayas?" Obviously not from the Christian Bible.

The central figure in the painting appears to be the Himalayan mountains themselves. This in itself, I believe, is unique among old thangkas. These paintings were created by monks or "lamas" as religious acts along strict guidelines. This one may have been painted by a monk familiar with the Moravian Christian missionaries who established themselves in the Himalayan region by the late nineteenth century.

[Above: Full panel of the tapestry showing two scenes from the life of Jesus.]

[Left: Figure 4 Left panel in detail. Jesus, Martha and Mary.]

[Above: Figure 3 Right of panel in detail. Jesus enters Jerusalem.]

Whoever it was, he knew some classic Bible stories. I wish to stress that "teaching story" thangka scenes were of traditionally known religious stories. It's difficult to imagine a monk getting away with fatuous or imagined imagery.

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