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White Tara

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White Tara 1600s. Tibet or Mongolia. Silver with gold and inlays of semiprecious stones; h. 17.1 cm. Asia Society, New York, Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection 1979.52. Photography by Synthescape, courtesy of Asia Society

In Buddhist traditions of the Himalayas, White Tara is the name given to a regal female form that embodies the abstract ideal of compassionate action to free beings from suffering. Buddhist devotional literature dating back to the 700s reveals how this form of Tara arose from tears shed by the Bodhisattva of Compassion while witnessing the misery of beings suffering in hell. She was generated as the image of one who not only can see the sufferings of others with her multiple eyes but also has the power to act on their behalf. The wealth of her ornaments and materials implies the success of her work and, by extension, the work of Buddhist practitioners who meditate on who she is and what she stands for, carrying her ideals of compassionate action into their own lives. 

It is this aspect of Buddhist art—the uplifting compassionate ideals—that most appealed to John D. Rockefeller 3rd and his wife, Blanchette, who acquired this exquisite example of White Tara in silver, draped with multicolored adornments. The Rockefellers had turned to Sherman E. Lee, then director of the Cleveland Museum of Art and chief curator of Asian art, to advise and confirm acquisitions of art from regions east of the Indus River for their personal collection. Active in foreign affairs and international political circles from the 1950s through the 1970s, the couple traveled to Asia annually, and they recognized the ever-increasing importance of making that continent’s arts a source of education and delight for the American public. To that end they founded the Asia Society Inc., New York, where their collection is housed as the core of the permanent holdings. A shining example of the warm relationship between the Rockefellers and Sherman Lee, and between the Asia Society and the Cleveland Museum of Art, the White Tara currently graces our Himalayan galleries in celebration of shared ideals. 

 


Cleveland Art, May/June 2016