Protecting Wisdom: Tibetan Book Covers from the MacLean Collection is the first major exhibition to examine the subject of Tibetan book covers. For Tibetan Buddhists, books are a divine presence in which the Buddha lives and reveals himself, and they are venerated and handled with the utmost respect. Tibetan book cover design has more than a thousand-year history in which stylistic influences from Kashmir, India, Nepal, Central Asia, and later, China, were amalgamated into a uniquely Tibetan creation. In turn, Tibetan innovations such as the covers’ large size and amount of embellishment later influenced the covers of Mongolian and Chinese books. The majority of covers in Protecting Wisdom are Tibetan Buddhist, but included in the exhibition are a rare Bon-religion cover, two covers from Mongolia as well as an important pair of covers produced for the Ming Chinese emperor Yongle in circa 1411.
For Tibetan Buddhists, books are a divine presence in which the Buddha lives and reveals himself, and they are venerated and handled with the utmost respect
The decoration on these covers exhibits the supreme skill and consummate artistic expression of the finest artisans. Decorative techniques used on the covers include carving, incising, painting, gilding, inlay, as well as combinations of these techniques as highlighted in the exhibition by photographic enlargements of details. The carving ranges from light incisions to very high relief set in deep hollows in which figures play in light and shadow. Embellishment can be found on the covers’ outside and inside faces as well as on the thick edges, an area that functions like a spine and is visible when the books are housed on library shelves. Painting can be the primary form of decoration, but it often accompanies the carved decoration in large areas such as the borders or in brightly painted details that highlight the design, such as a deity’s red lips or the green-and-black scaled tail of a snake deity.
Protecting Wisdom: Tibetan Book Covers from the MacLean Collection presents a stunning visual display that together with the interpretative material, illuminates a virtually unknown type of art, one that will charm and intrigue both those familiar and unfamiliar with Tibetan art.
Members’ Preview Reception and Panel Discussion:
Thursday, March 31, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Join Richard Pegg, Director and Curator of Asian Art of the MacLean Collection, Kathryn Selig Brown, Exhibition Curator and Tibetan art specialist, and Barry MacLean, renowned collector, for the Members’ Preview reception and special panel discussion celebrating the opening of the exhibition Protecting Wisdom: Tibetan Book Covers from the MacLean Collection. Dr. Pegg will present on the MacLean Asian Art Museum and Map Library collections, Dr. Selig Brown will present on the carving and painting of the exhibition book covers, and Mr. MacLean will discuss his passion for collecting Asian art and maps.
Dr. Richard Pegg has been Curator of Asian Art since 2004 and Director of both the museum and library since 2012. He has a PhD in East Asian Art History from Columbia University and a BA and MA in Chinese and Japanese literature and philosophy from George Washington University.
Dr. Kathryn Selig Brown is an Independent Curator and Asian Art consultant. A former Curator at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, she has curated more than a dozen exhibitions, written numerous articles and exhibition catalogues, and lectured widely including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Barry L. MacLean is CEO of MacLean-Fogg Co., a privately held global enterprise of 32 companies. He has been collecting maps for more than fifty years and Asian art for more than forty years.