A comparative and analytical discussion of Mongolian Buddhist art is a long overdue project. In the 1970s and 1980s, Nyam-Osoryn Tsultem's lavishly illustrated publications broke ground for the study of Mongolian Buddhist art.1 His five-volume work was organized by genre (painting, sculpture, architecture, decorative arts) and included a monograph on a single artist, Zanabazar (Tsultem 1982a, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989). Tsultem's books introduced readers to the major Buddhist art centers and sites, artists and their works, techniques, media, and styles. He developed and wrote extensively about his concepts of "schools"—including the school of Zanabazar and the school of Ikh Khüree—inspired by Mongolian ger- (yurt-) based education, the artists' teacher-disciple or preceptor-apprentice relationships, and monastic workshops for rituals and production of art. The very concept of "schools" and its underpinning methodology itself derives from the Medieval European practice of workshops and, for example, the model of scuola (school) evidenced in Italy. Tsultem borrowed the term and the concept from Russian art-historical literature.
Tsultem was particularly passionate about, and a strong advocate for, Mongol Zurag, the new traditional style of painting he named and invented to protect Mongol identity and nomadic traditional culture against the totalitarian Sovietization campaign carried out in Mongolia throughout the twentieth century (Uranchimeg 2017). Although research on Mongolian Buddhist art is still in its infancy, no archival documentation has been [End Page 249] revealed to explain how an organized scuola model at Mongolian Buddhist sites actually worked. However, as Tsultem argued, the style, color spectrum and combinations, and high quality overall can be seen as hallmarks of a particular monastic site, the so-called school of Ikh Khüree. There is no doubt that the best artists and artisans of the time were brought to Ikh Khüree and that they and their works contributed to making this site the indisputable center of Mongolian Buddhism, particularly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We also lack much information about it, as well as about artworks from other prominent sites in Mongol territories, including Inner and Outer Mongolia and monasteries founded and run by ethnic Mongol lamas in Eastern Tibet (especially Amdo).
Nonetheless, Tsultem's books were important in establishing the unique contribution of Mongolian Buddhist art to the practice of Mongolian Buddhism and noting its differences from Tibetan Buddhism, with which it shares many common elements. This issue of Mongolia-Tibet commonality and divergences provided the focal point of later scholarly exhibitions and their subsequent publications by French and American art historians, such as Gilles Béguin, Patricia Berger, and Terese Bartholomew, in the 1990s (Béguin 1993; Berger and Bartholomew 1995). These scholars' main aim was to demonstrate the richness and the distinct features of Mongolian Buddhist art and further the knowledge of specific artworks, artists, styles, sites, and iconographies. Not only was their research critically broadened to include primary resources and comparative examples from Tibet and China, it also considered Mongolian art within the larger picture of the Buddhist diaspora and within the Qing multiethnic culture in particular. Besides Béguin's Trésors de Mongolie (Treasures of Mongolia, 1993) and Berger and Bartholomew's Mongolia: The Legacy of Chinggis Khan (1995), in which numerous Buddhist artworks were described and annotated with several important articles by leading scholars of Mongolia and Buddhist art, not much art-historical scholarship has been published since 1995, with the exception of a substantial two-volume catalogue of masterpieces from several Mongolian museums (Fleming and Shastri 2011) and Isabelle Charleux's many publications, including books on Buddhist architecture in Inner Mongolia and on Mongol pilgrims at Wutaishan (Charleux 2006, 2015, 2016).
This special issue of Cross-Currents aims to fill this gap by offering indepth analyses of particular topics, works of art, and sites, with each contribution [End Page 250] authored by an expert in the field and based on extensive research. The topics we have chosen reflect our methodological and analytical parameters. We aim to address the specific qualities of Mongolian Buddhist artworks by placing them in the historical, political, and social context of Inner Asia, and specifically the Tibet-Mongolia interface. Neither isolating Mongolia...