Anige, Himalayan Artist in Khubilai Khans Court
Anige, the greatest artist of Nepal and the highest artisan-official at the court of the Mongol emperor Khubilai Khan, was born in 1245. According to Chinese sources his legendary life and career over the next sixty years had a lasting artistic and spiritual influence on Asia and on China in particular. The magnitude of his accomplishments rivals those of Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, and Leonardo in the West. Very little is known about Nepal in Anige's time. The names and dates of dynasties and kings may be gleaned from the sporadic epigraphy and bare royal lists of the chronicles, but details of social and economic conditions are not clear. In the thirteenth century, the kingdom suffered from wars, famines, and earthquakes. The worst earthquake struck in 1255, killing one-third of the population! While Nepalese history is scantily recorded, there is one exception: substantial information on Anige is found in Chinese historical sources, which provide a rare glimpse into the Nepali artist's society, family, career, and art.
According to his official Chinese epitaph, Anige was descended from a king of Nepal. The historical record, however, is sketchy, and the claim is at best questionable. Anige was not born into wealth or favored circumstances; his parents seem to have been neither rich nor poor. While they could afford to send him to school, they also needed his manual labor at a tender age to eke out a living for the family.
Anige's parents were pious Buddhists. Early in his life Anige was attracted to Buddhist objects. We are told, in the Chinese epitaph, that his parents once took the child to a temple to pay homage to the Buddha. Looking up at a stupa (a Buddhist reliquary mound), the two-year-old boy asked about the symbolism of various parts of the monument and its maker. From so young a source, his questions inspired wonder among people nearby, who saw in him a prodigy destined to become a great artist ... or so the legend goes.
Other signs of Anige's genius are cited in the epitaph: He is described as mature and contemplative like an adult. He is a brilliant student. Endowed with an acute mind, he quickly comprehends his textbooks and becomes a good calligrapher. His work is admired even by venerable elders, who readily acknowledge their inferiority. By nature he has a keen interest in treatises on art. No sooner has he heard them read than he has them memorized. As he grows, he frequently produces art objects of exquisite quality. Heis particularly good at painting and sculpture. By the age of sixteen, he is one of the best artisans of the country.
Following social custom of the day, Anige married in his early teens. His bride, Zaiyedalaqimei, was devoted to him-a devotion that would withstand the vicissitudes of their later lives. The year 1260 marked a turning point in Anige's life. He and many of the best native artisans were recruited by the king of Nepal to build a monumental golden stupa in Tibet. The king had been asked to provide artists by the fifth patriarch of the Sa-skya sect of Tibetan Buddhism, 'Phags-pa (1235-I28o), spiritual adviser to the emperor Khubilai Khan and his empress. According to Tibetan chronicles, Phags-pa had initiated the imperial couple into the cult of the Sa-skya sect of Buddhism in 12 53 and became their spiritual mentor. With strong backing from the Khan, Thags-pa not only gained religious and secular power over Tibet but also extended his influence far beyond Tibet. In 1260 he was appointed Imperial Preceptor, the highest religious authority in the Mongol empire. In the same year he was also asked by the Khan to build the golden stupa in Tibet.
Phags-pa turned to Nepal for artists. Tibetan Buddhists had always looked toward Nepal and northern India-the birthplace of the Buddha and Buddhismfor religious and artistic inspiration. But by the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, Buddhism in India had declined. The last remnants of Indic Buddhism were in the eastern Gangetic region, where the Pala artistic tradition had flourished, though by 1260 those remnants had long since disappeared.' Nepal remained the only stronghold where the Tibetans could still find Buddhist art of the Indic tradition.
Phags-pa intended to recruit as many as one hundred artists for the project. The number may not have been large by the standards of the Mongol empire, which had incalculable human and financial resources. But for the small kingdom of Nepal, which had been devastated by repeated wars, famines, and earthquakes, to find so many qualified artists in a short time was not easy. Eventually the king was able to gather eighty qualified artists. Before sending them to Tibet, he received them personally and ordered them to select a leader among themselves. Nobody was willing to take charge. Then Anige, one of the youngest, volunteered to take up the responsibility.' He nominated himself not with the rashness of adolescence but with self-confidence. When asked about his age, he answered, "Sixteen." The king hesitated and tried to discourage the lad, for he was looking for someone more advanced in age and experience. But the confident youth replied, "My body is young indeed, but my mind is not." Convinced of the young man's ability, the king entrusted him with the responsibility of leading the team to Tibet.
Anige and the Nepalese artists arrived in Tibet in 1261 He impressed the Imperial Preceptor Phags-pa at their first meeting. The Tibetan master immediately recognized the Nepali youth's great potential as both a skillful artist and a good administrator. He appointed Anige supervisor for the construction of the stupa. The reliquary tower was built in memory of Sa-skya Pandita(1182-1251), the fourth patriarch of the Sa-skya sect, the teacher and uncle of 'Phags-pa and the architect of the Tibet Mongol alliance. It was constructed in the main hall of the Sa-skya monastery, the headquarters of the sect. The stupa no longer exists, though part of the Sa-skya monastery, dating back to Anige's time, still stands.
The stupa was an important project for 'Phags-pa but even more so for Khubilai Khan. In addition to its spiritual importance, it carried a political function for the Mongol ruler. In his early career, Khubilai had two great ambitions: first, to become the Great Khan of the Mongol empire; and second, to conquer the Chinese Southern Song dynasty(1127-1279) in the richest part of the world known to him. After Khubilai began to take charge of North China in 1251, his strategic goal was to consolidate his rule and defeat the Southern Song. In 1259 however, he postponed fighting with the Southern Song after the death of Mongke (reigned 1251- 59), the khan of the Mongol empire. In competition with other Mongol leaders, he desired ultimate sovereignty over the empire. In 126o he became the Great Khan, not by the traditional means of election by the Mongol tribes but by self proclamation. His violation of tradition ignited a war between him and the most fierce contender for the throne-his younger brother Arigh Boke. By asking 'Phags-pa to build the stupa in the same year that he achieved the throne, Khubilai hoped not only to commemorate the Sa-skya Pandita, but also to receive the spiritual benediction necessary to legitimate his rule. Through this project he believed his political fortune would not only be enhanced but also would likely improve.
Anige worked diligently on the project for nearly two years. By the time the stupa was completed, Khubilai was winning the struggle against the pretender Arigh Boke and other opponents and was successfully consolidating his position as the Great Khan. Although the connection between the construction of the stupa and political events was fortuitous, the stupa enhanced the position of the imperial mentor 'Phags-pa and glorified the reign of Khubilai. For the pious believer, however, the very purpose of a devotional image was its capacity to produce a desired result. 'Phags-pa discovered in Anige a special ability to make devotional, religious images effective. This ability was testified to by the stupa, which helped Khubilai realize his first ambition and would be used again to help Khubilai conquer the Southern Song.
After completion of the stupa, Anige was eager to return to Nepal. He asked permission from 'Phags-pa to leave, pleading that it was necessary to provide for his parents and wife, from whom he had been separated for nearly two years. But Anige's pleas fell on deaf ears. 'Phags-pa a Buddhist monk, regarded renouncement of family ties as the first step toward spiritual enlightenment. Having guided Anige for nearly two years, 'Phagspa valued Anige's superb administrative skills, his exceptional artistic talent, and above all his highly unusual ability of bringing a potent force toBuddhist monuments. To find one of these qualities in an artist was possible, but to find all three in one artist was extraordinary. 'Phags-pa treasured Anige's many gifts and took personal concern for his further spiritual and professional development. Thus, while 'Phags-pa might empathize with Anige's pleas, in the end he saw a far greater future for the young man in a different direction.
With the completion of the stupa, 'Phags-pa undertook the responsibility of supervising religious affairs throughout the Mongol empire. His priority was to disseminate Sa-skya teaching and to promulgate his religion and provide religious service to the state. Thus he needed a panoply of Tibetan Buddhist objects. Chinese artisans were unfamiliar with both the range of the bewildering Himalayan esoteric Buddhist pantheon and its iconographies and styles. 'Phags-pa needed artists who worked in this tradition, and the best artist he could find was Anige.
'Phags-pa persuaded Anige to continue in service. His intention, however, was by no means selfish. Rather than keeping Anige by his side as a member of his personal entourage, he planned to use Anige's talent and genius to glorify the rule of Khubilai directly.
For Anige, who could not wait to go home, to move farther away from home could not have been an easy decision. Two years of separation from his family had been almost unbearable. To remain meant he would have to become a monk and forever forsake his family ties. On the other hand, the temptation to work as court artist at the splendid court of the Mongol Khan was irresistible to the young artist, and eventually Anige's artistic and professional desires prevailed.
Before taking Anige to court, 'Phags-pa took a series of measures to enhance his qualifications. He initiated Anige into the Sa-skya monastic order and personally gave the tonsure to him. Anige was now no longer an ordinary artisan but a close associate in the inner circle of the revered Imperial Preceptor. His new status gave him the credentials that he would need for important positions and commissions at the Mongol court.
'Phags-pa also gave Anige an intensive and individualized spiritual training. Although Anige was still a novice, the master transmitted to him secret teachings that others might not have a chance to learn even after decades of advanced training. The pupil read arcane scripture voraciously and made rapid progress in Buddhist theology. This training qualified him to fashion all kinds of Buddhist images that he would be asked to make in China and Mongolia. Having fully cultivated Anige, 'Phags-pa was prepared to debut his protege at court.
When Anige was brought before the throne, the Great Khan, saying nothing, observed him with penetrating eyes for a long time. He was probably amazed to see that the builder of the golden stupa in Tibet was only eighteen years old. He was probably even more amazed that Anige, although from a small and remote land, did not look afraid in front of the ruler of the largest empire in the world. Khubilai's long silence was finally broken by his question, "Aren't you afraid to come to this huge country?" Anige answered, "The sage regards people in all directions as his sons. When a son comes to his father, what is there to fear?"
The Khan's question focused on fear, but Anige's answer focused on universal love. His reply reflected a belief that a great ruler was one who governed by wisdom and compassion, a belief of the idealized Buddhist view of a benevolent and enlightened rulership. His Buddhist training had clearly provided him with the Buddhist worldview, a view that enabled him to stand before the Khan with ease and speak with eloquence.
Khubilai then inquired why Anige came to court. Anige replied, "My family has been living in the West [Nepal] for generations. I followed the edict to go to Tibet and worked on the stupa for two years. I saw constant wars there, and wish Your Majesty could pacify there. I come on behalf of sentient beings." The emperor asked about his specialty. Anige answered, "My mind is my teacher. I know roughly painting, casting, and carving."
The emperor was delighted. He showed Anige a Chinese bronze statue with complicated arteries, veins, and acupuncture points used for the teaching of acupuncture therapy. The statue was a gift to the Mongol court from the Southern Song court in 1232 when the two formed a temporary alliance to attack their common enemy, the Jurchens. Such statues were used at Chinese court by medical personnel serving members of the imperial family.' The statue was in poor condition, and all the court artists insisted to Khubilai that it had been damaged beyond repair. Khubilai asked Anige if he could repair it. Anige accepted the challenge, knowing that the repair of the statue would be a supreme test of his skills. It proved to be one of his most difficult projects, and he worked on it for nearly three years. In 1265 the restored image was presented to the emperor. He summoned all the artists who had declared the work beyond repair to see the statue. The emperor asked, "You all said you could not do it, but who has repaired this?" Uttering admiration, the artists praised the work, saying it must have been done by divine hands. Anige's reputation was now secure at the court. From then on, the emperor entrusted Anige with all important imperial commissions.
The first major imperial project Anige undertook probably was the Buddhist temple Zhenguo Renwangsi, which was completed by the summer Of1270. Unfortunately, because of war and destruction, the temple no longer exists. As supervisor-in-chief of the artisans of the Grand Capital, Anige's official rank was grade 3b in the imperial bureaucracy. Government institutions and officials were ranked in nine grades, each subdivided into principal (a) and secondary (b) divisions.
From 1270 to 1274, Anige worked mainly on the Buddhist temple Da Huguo Renwangsi near Dadu (modem Beijing). One of the most prestigious state Buddhist sites, this temple was sponsored by Empress Chabi (see fig. 4), who was an ardent follower of the Imperial Preceptor 'Phags-pa. Anige worked under her direct leadership. As a result, the two fellow Sa-skya believers formed a close relationship.
In 1272, Anige fell ill, and his condition turned drastically from bad to worse. According to the Chinese epitaph, in a strange dream he traveled to the heavens and met with four celestial fairies who gave him food. When he awoke he found himself miraculously recovered. Khubilai immediately sent him ten bodyguards and a sedan chair decorated with gold. The emperor ordered the imperial food service to supply him with food every day. Khubilai obviously believed that the sudden sickness of his principal court artist was caused by poisoning, presumably by those jealous of Anige's success.
In 1273, Anige became supervisor-in-chief of all classes of artisans. Under his direction a department in charge of artisans was established in 1275. During Khubilai's rule, this was one of the two most important artistic institutions of the dynasty. As director of this grade 3a bureau, Anige supervised thousands of artisans and was responsible for religious images, imperial portraits, and other court projects (see fig.i). He cast gold seals for the heir to the throne and several princes and cast gold- and silver-lettered roundels as travel passes. He produced astronomical instruments such as an armillary sphere and a water clock. He made new symbols of the emperor's sovereignty, based on designs from Indic culture such as the dharmacakra (Wheel of the Law), which was used to lead imperial processions, and the imag e of Garuda, the celestial bird that was displayed over the imperial throne. The conception of these new symbols of imperial sovereignty did not originate with Anige, but it was his materialization of them that made them effective symbols of Khubilai's dynastic power. Not limited to the court, their influence penetrated even to the lower levels of Chinese society. In a popular drama of the period, for example, an abusive local official calls himself "Great Garuda" and his equally harsh assistant "Small Garuda."'
Anige's special ability to make efficacious images for the Mongols was ut ilized again in 1274, when Khubilai intensified his final attack on the Southern Song. To call upon divine force to assist the Khan's army, 'Phags-pa asked Anige to build a temple for Mahakala, a terrifying Tibetan tantric deity who was recognized as the guardian of the Mongols. Anige made the statues of Mahakala and his divine entourage and situated them facing the Southern Song territory. The Imperial Preceptor ordered Dam-pa (1230-1303), a Sa-skya monk known for his magic powers and a cultist of Mahakala, to consecrate the statue, and 'Phags-pa himself blessed it, granting it special powers. The Mongol army soon swarmed across South China, and the Southern Song capital Lin'an surrendered without a fight.
In1274, Anige traveled as far as Shangdu in Inner Mongolia to work on several projects. In addition to building a Buddhist temple, he made statues of Confucius and his ten major disciples in a Confucian school, an indication that Anige was able to work on Chinese subjects in Chinese style.
The emperor lavishly rewarded Anige for his service. In1274 he was given money and a residence in the new capital Dadu. By then he had been a monk and away from Nepal for thirteen years. But he had not forgotten either his family or his homeland.
Anige's prolonged separation from his wife won the sympathy of Empress Chabi. The empress sent gold to Anige's wife, but her clansmen seized and hid the gold without her knowledge, then tried to marry her off to someone else so that they could keep the treasure. When she refused to remarry, they imprisoned her. Determined to die rather than surrender, she finally frustrated their attempts by refusing to eat. Two years later, in1276, special envoys with five hundred taels of gold were dispatched from China to Nepal, most likely on the order of the empress, to escort Zaiyedalaqimei to China.
Anige's wife arrived at the capital in1278. But Anige was still a monk. To smooth the way for their reunion, Khubilai ordered Anige to return to lay life. The emperor and empress wanted Anige to have many sons so that his genius would not die. After Anige became a layman, Khubilai and various members of the imperial family from time to time personally married him to a woman as an award for completing an important project. Eventually he "had a harem of ten wives, who bore him six sons and eight daughters. Two eldest sons, Asengge and Ashula, later inherited his positions and some of his tides, but his artistic genius was not rekindled in them.
In1278 the honorary title of dasitu with the rank of ib was conferred upon Anige. His official regalia was the equivalent of that belonging to the prime minister. He was given ceremonial hats and robes, a jade belt, brocade garments, a gold belt, twenty-four sets of fall banquet robes, marten coats, hats, saddles, carts, and horses, and he was married to a granddaughter of the former Southern Song heir apparent Zhao Xun W92-izzo). In addition, the former prince's houses, storehouses, and lands were awarded to him. This lavish honor, which was part of the plunder from the Southern Song, was bestowed on Anige because his image of Mahakala played a crucial role in the Mongol defeat of the Southern Song.
On his large manor, Anige led the life of the wealthy and sophisticated sinicized gentry. He emulated the manners of the Chinese scholar-officials and social elites. Like a traditional Chinese gentleman, he adopted an elegant sobriquet, Xixuan, or Western Studio, a subtle reference to the fact that his residence, located in the southwest part of the capital, was a gift from the emperor. He learned Chinese and the art of calligraphy and was recognized as a good calligrapher in the history of that art. He could paint in the Chinese style, and as a connoisseur he collected Chinese paintings. A Chinese portrait depicting the great poet Li Bai (7oi-62) walking and chanting poems, which was painted in spontaneous Chan Buddhist style by the great Southern Song painter Liang Kai, may have been in his collection. It bears on its upper right corner a large seal whose inscription is in the official Mongol script created by Thags-pa and hence known as Phags-pa script. The inscription reads, "Seal of dasitu," a direct association with Anige.
The Mongol occupation of the Southern Song greatly stimulated the dynasty's appetite for luxuries. As a court artist and important official, Anige was repositioned to satisfy these demands in 1278 when he was appointed director of the Imperial Manufactories Commission. This bureau and the Bureau of All Classes of Artisans, also under his direction, were the two most important artisan institutions. The former was the largest artisan agency with the official rank of za, a rank even higher than the Ministry of Works, one of the six principal ministries. With well over ten thousand households of artisans, it directly served the needs of the imperial family for luxury goods such as crowns, belts, jewelry, utensils, and other objects made of gold, jade, pearls, rhinoceros horn, ivory, and various precious materials. It also produced Buddhist works of art and imperial portraits in expensive textiles such as brocade and tapestry. Its subordinate agencies spread throughout China, even to Korea. Under Anige's leadership seventeen new departments were established, including the Porcelain Bureau in Jingdezhen in Jiangxi in South China. Ever since, Jingdezhen has been the capital of Chinese porcelain production, and it dominated the world porcelain market until the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Anige inspected the Jingdezhen kilns personally and provided designs for blue-andwhite wares.6 His supervision may, in part, account for the prominent use of lotus leaves from Buddhist art in the decorations of porcelains of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (fig. Z).
In 1279, Anige built a Nepali-style stupa, known as the White Stupa because of its white body. Fifty-two meters high, it still stands in Beijing today (fig.3). Another stupa in the same style was built by Anige in 1301 in the Wutai Mountains in northern Shanxi, one of the holiest sites in the Buddhist world, particularly for Tibetans and Mongolians. It has also survived and stands seventy-five meters high,
Figure 2. Covered vase, China,
late Yuan dynasty, ca. 1375. Porcelain painted in underglaze blue, 45.5 cm. Metropolitan
Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1927
dominating the view of the Wutai Mountains. Enclosed in the two stupas are Buddhist images, texts, and other treasures. If their contents come to light in the future, they will drastically change art historians' understanding of Anige's style and the art of the period.
According to the Chinese chronicles, floods of sunlight suddenly broke the clouds and illuminated the skies when the stupas were dedicated, on separate occasions. Such sudden appearances of the auspicious might have puzzled even Anige himself, but these events could have been forecast by Tibetan Buddhist masters trained in meteorology and exploited to inspire awe. In any case these dramatic effects delighted the Mongol rulers and convinced them of the sacred nature of the monuments and the supernatural abilities of their designer and builder.
For Anige, heavenly blessing materialized into earthly reward. For the first stupa he was awarded fifteen thousand acres of rich farmland around the capital, nearly one thousand serfs, and one hundred head of cattle. For the second stupa, he was given ten thousand tassels of silver and was married to a Mongol official's daughter.
1294 the emperor Khubilai died. Anige held a private
Buddhist ritual for forty-nine days for the salvation of the soul of the deceased emperor.
He personally painted posthumous portraits of Khubilai and Empress Chabi. The two
portraits served as models for the imperial formal portraits to be transferred into large
textile portraits. These textile portraits have not survived, but the two models are still
in existence (figs. 4, 5), now in the collection of the National Palace Museum in
Taipei. From 1295 to 13oi Anige was engaged in the
construction of two huge imperial Buddhist temples in the Wutai Mountains. Like many
imperial projects, these were
of a Buddhist temple and spent four years
building another temple that he financed. Feeling at home in the Wutai Mountains,
considered a holy place to Sa-skya believers of Buddhism, Anige expressed his intention to
retire there. In 1257, Phags-pa himself made a pilgrimage to the Wutai Mountains, where he
wrote several famous poems. The nostalgic atmosphere of the Wutai Mountains seems to have
nourished the spiritual life of the artist.
Buddhist temples and statues, some of which were colossal figures cast in gilt bronze. The last images Anige made were a group of bronze Buddhist statues that were to be placed in a building located in the exact middle of the capital. Intended to be a symbol of the central power of the capital and the Mongol empire, they were commissioned by Empress Buluhan, who was preoccupied with a power struggle and had little knowledge of Buddhism, Particularly esoteric Buddhism. On November zo, 1305, Anige received an order from the empress specifying that the images should be cast in bronze for the sake of durability. Covering her face with a handkerchief
Figure 5. Attributed to Anige, Portrait of
Khubilai, China, Yuan dynasty, 1294 Album leaf, colors and ink on silk, 54.9 x 47 cm.
National Palace Museum, Taipei
when she saw the statues, the empress found them "ugly and strange" and ordered their immediate destruction.
To Anige the order was more than destruction of the statues. It was the destruction of his faith, his work, his dignity, and his unwavering loyalty to the Mongol dynasty. For more than forty years his works had been admired, praised, and regarded as models of artistic and spiritual purity at the Mongol court and throughout the empire. Suddenly, however, they were denounced and destroyed. He had never suffered such a humiliation before. His health failed, and he fell ill in early March13c,6, after returning from a court session. Two days later he died. Following Nepali custom, he was cremated, and his ashes were buried in a stupa near the capital three months later.
Anige's achievements at court are summarized in his Chinese epitaph: the construction of three stupas, nine great Buddhist temples, two Confucian shrines, one Daoist temple, and countless images and objects made for the emperor, his imperial family, the court, and private persons.
Unlike some of Phags-pa's followers at court who became corrupt, Anige won respect from Chinese scholar-officials, particularly Cheng Jufu(1249 - 1318), the writer of his epitaph. Cheng later saw a portrait of Anige. He inscribed on the portrait a poem praising Anige's "noble appearance," diligence, and irreplaceable talent.
Anige's biography is more than a story of a Nepali artist's gallant adventure and phenomenal success in foreign lands. It is also a story of how Himalayan Buddhist art became an international style. That style continued to thrive after Anige's death and eventually became the basis for the Buddhist art at the Ming(1368-1644) and Qing courts and in Mongolia.
Anning Jing is an assistant
professor in the Department of Art, Michigan State University, Lansing. He is currently
writing a book on the Yongle palace, located in Shanxi, China.