Unknown Tibet: The Tucci Expeditions and Buddhist Painting at Asia Society Museum, through May 20, 2018

Photographs by Corrado Serra.

“The world knew very little about the Himalayan region when Italian scholar and explorer Giuseppe Tucci (1894–1984) began his work around one hundred years ago. His contributions to the understanding of Tibet, including Tibetan Buddhism, in the West have been enormous and the materials he was able to gather for future study impressive. Unknown Tibet: The Tucci Expeditions and Buddhist Painting presents a selection of the paintings he acquired during his travels. Tucci obtained expedition permits that included permission to acquire and export original source materials for scientific study. The paintings he acquired were purchased, gifted, or found and deemed too badly damaged or incomplete for cult use by the Tibetan communities. Those in this exhibition, all recently conserved, are now in the collection and care of the Museum of Civilisation-Museum of Oriental Art “Giuseppe Tucci” in Rome, to which Tucci and his wife Francesca Bonardi Tucci bequeathed all of their possessions.

Tucci’s life was framed by two World Wars, a worldwide economic depression, and—shortly after his last journey to Tibet—the destruction of Tibetan monastic culture. The turbulent times and the four years Tucci spent in the military during World War I—two of which were at the front line—had a profound effect on him. He was a highly intellectual, multi-lingual scholar with an antipathy to military solutions and a dedication to the pursuit of intercultural dialogue. During his lifetime, he received many high honors from many countries in Europe and Asia, and his scientific legacy is still fundamental to the research of Tibetan culture today. Tucci’s bibliography of more than four hundred entries attests to the expansiveness of his interests and talents.

Tucci was also one of the most important explorers of the century. Among his scientific travels were eight major expeditions to Tibet, from 1928 to 1948, which are the focus of this exhibition. The selection of paintings and reproductions of photographs from three Italian photographers represent the roughly five thousand miles Tucci trekked across the Tibetan cultural zone, which extends far beyond the present borders of the Tibetan Autonomous Region in China. They also challenge us to envision very distant points in time and place: Italy at the beginning of the twentieth century, pre-modern Tibet, and the culture of ancient Tibet that expanded and blossomed from the twelfth century.” — Introductory Wall Text

Right: Amitāyus, ca. 16th century.

Left: Śākyamuni in the Bhadrakalpa, 15th century. Center: Buddha Śākyamuni, 15th century. Right: Buddha Śākyamuni, 18th century

The Sixteen Arhats (Neten, gNas brtan) – Nāgasena Arhat, 17th century

The Sixteen Arhats (Neten, gNas brtan) – Nāgasena Arhat, 17th century

Seated Buddha in Dharmachakra-mudra, probably the Buddha Shakyamuni, India, Uttar Pradesh; Gupta period, ca. late 5th–early 6th century

Left to right: A Bhutanese Hierarch Jigme Sengge (‘Jigs med seng ge), Last quarter of 18th century; Drikungpa or Drukpa Kagyu Lama, 16th century; Guru Rinpoche and his Eight Emanations, 16th-17th centuries; Tamdrin and other emanations of Guru Rinpoche, 19th century; Padmasaṃbhava and the teaching activities of Guru Rinpoche, 18th century

Installation view

Left to right: Green Tārā (Śyāmatārā, sGrol ljang), Mid-19th century; Avalokiteśvara Ṣaḍakṣarī (sPyan ras gzigs yi ge drug pa), 19th century; Heruka, 19th century; Uṣṇīṣavijayā (gTsug tor rnam rgyal ma), 19th century; White Tārā (Sitatārā, sGrol dkar), 19th century

Left: Vajradhātumaṇḍala (rDo rje dbyings kyi dkyil ’khor), 1875

Installation view

Left: Butön Rinchendrub (Bu ston rin chen grub), 16th century

Left: Panchen Lama, Early 17th century. Right: Tsongkhapa and scenes from his life, 18th century

Left: Vaiśravana, 14th century. Center: Bardo Thödrol (bar do thos grol) Vajra-Heruka in Yab-Yum, ninth day meditation, 18th century (?). Right: Black Garuḍa (Khyung nag po), 18th century

Left: Black Garuḍa (Khyung nag po), 18th century. Right: Bon po deity Tsewang Rigzin (Tshe dbang rig ’dzin), 19th century.

Installation view

Left: Bon po deity Tsewang Rigzin (Tshe dbang rig ’dzin), 19th century. Right: Astrological / Divination chart (Sipaho, Srid pa ho), 19th century

Unknown Tibet: The Tucci Expeditions and Buddhist Painting was organized was organized by Dr. Adriana Proser, Asia  Society’s John H. Foster Senior Curator for Traditional Asian Art, and guest curator Dr. Deborah Klimburg‐Salter, University Professor Emeritus, CIRDIS, Institute for Art History, University of Vienna; and Associate, Department of South Asian Studies, Harvard University.