Rubin Museum of Art acquires 18th century illustrated White Beryl manuscript
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Rubin Museum of Art acquires 18th century illustrated White Beryl manuscript
Sonam Peljor (active in 18th century), Folios from Sonam Peljor’s illustrated edition of Sangye Gyatso’s White Beryl. Illustrated Manuscript of the White Beryl Sakya monastery, Central Tibet; mid-18th century Pigments on cloth and lacquered wood covers, 10.8 x 60.7 cm.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Rubin Museum of Art has acquired a one-of-a-kind illustrated manuscript of the White Beryl created at Sakya, Tibet in the mid-18th century. Painted by the famous artist of the time Sonam Peljor, the elaborate manuscript contains 94 exceptionally designed and executed pictorial illustrations of the Tibetan system of elemental divination, described in the astrological treatise the White Beryl. Their quality, complexity, and fine details are unmatched by any other work on this subject.

“With this acquisition, the Rubin Museum collection now has the world’s foremost holdings of art related to Tibetan astrology and cosmology, offering unprecedented possibilities for exhibitions and scholarship,” said Elena Pakhoutova, curator at the Rubin. “These exceptional paintings demonstrate one of the most sophisticated traditions of prognostication known at the time. White Beryl integrates astrological knowledge from other Asian and European traditions and offers an understanding of the cosmos and human existence. It is a system of assessing and affecting the environment that is still practiced today.”

The intricate paintings in this White Beryl manuscript are especially significant, as no other fully illustrated version of the treatise exists. A small selection of the paintings will be displayed in the permanent exhibition “Masterworks: Jewels of the Collection,” as part of a yearly installation opening in February 2016, with a larger display planned for the following year. Prior to the work’s acquisition, selected leaves from the manuscript were shown on loan during the Rubin’s 2014 exhibition “Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine.”

The work was purchased with funds from the Rubin Museum Acquisitions Fund, following the Museum’s deaccession of several works of art earlier this year. In addition to the White Beryl manuscript, other important works of art related to Tibetan astrology in the Rubin Museum collection include an astrological scroll that is nearly 16 feet in length, the Kalachakra tantra scroll, and several astrological and protective charts.

The White Beryl manuscript paintings were created by a master artist commissioned by the Sakya court in the early to mid-18th century. The entire work contains two distinct sets. The first 59 painted folios are earlier in date while the second set of 35 illustrated folios was commissioned, subsequently, to complement the first set.

The manuscript came to light in the late 1980s and was acquired by London collector and specialist Sam Fogg, who in partnership with John Eskenazi supported research and a subsequent major publication of the manuscript which presents the structure of the manuscript, all the paintings, and their content.

Gyurme Dorje, a renowned British scholar of Tibetan Buddhist texts, researched the sources of the manuscript and the content of the images in consultation with Tibetan scholars of history, astrology, and divination. Combined efforts of the sponsors, scholars and publishers resulted in a beautiful and weighty (19.4 pounds), 432 pages oversized tome titled Tibetan Elemental Divination Paintings: Illuminated Manuscript from the White Beryl of Sangs-rgyas rGya-mtsho with the Moonbeams Treatise of Lo-chen Dharmaśrī. It was published in 2001 and 2008 by Paul Holberton Publishing.

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