Bon Gods of the Five Sciences

18th century

Rubin Museum of Art

Rubin Museum of Art

This painting, unusual in both size and composition, depicts the Bon Gods of the Five Sciences in a rainbow sphere surrounded by the religion's Thirty-three Celestial Ritual Experts. Bon myth recounts that in a past life Tonpa Shenrab, the founder of the Bon religion, appointed each ritual specialist to restrain the negative effects of a malevolent spirit. Thus each of these ritualists has a different role and appearance.

The overall lightness of the color palette of this painting along with a dark blue sky that suddenly transitions to blank canvas and the subtle shading of the clouds and figures suggest that this painting is from Tibet's northern Kham Province. Many of the details within this painting reveal a great deal of inventiveness and imagination, with figures clothed in not only silks, bird feathers, and reptile skins, but also rainbows, fire, and water, and even wearing animals as hats. It is mainly in the Bon tradition that indigenous Tibetan animals and other aspects of the natural world play such an important part.

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  • Title: Bon Gods of the Five Sciences
  • Date: 18th century
  • Date Created: 18th century
  • Physical Dimensions: 14 x 55 1/8 in.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Rubin Museum of Art, Gift of Shelley and Donald Rubin, C2006.66.53
  • Medium: Pigments on cloth
  • Place of Creation: Tibet
  • Exhibition History: Rubin Museum of Art, "Bon: The Magic Word" (10/05/07 - 04/14/08)


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