Fine Arts Zanabazar Museum, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

The Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts was founded in 1966. The museum is renowned for the works of G. Zanabazar (1635-1724), which include the statues of Sita Tara, the Five Dhayani Buddhas and the Bodhi Stupa. The Fine Arts Museum was named after Gombodorjiin Zanabazar in 1995. It has 12 exhibition galleries covering the arts from ancient civilizations up to the beginning of the 20th Century. Initially opened with over 300 exhibits, the Museum rapidly enriched the number of its objects, with the modern arts becoming a separate division in 1989 as an Arts Gallery.

The Museum displays the artistic works of Mongolian masters of the 18-20th Centuries, coral masks, thangkas, as well as the famous paintings of B. Sharav entitled “A Day in Mongolia” and “Airag feast”. The Museum contains nearly 16600 objects. The exhibition hall regularly hosts the works of contemporary artists. The G. Zanabazar Museum has been successfully cooperating with UNESCO for the improvement of the preservation of priceless exhibits and for training of the Museum staff.The tour of the museum begins at the first floor, guiding through the following topics.

The building of the Fine Arts Museum has a history going back more than 102 years. It is a monument of the history and culture of the city of Ulaanbaatar, and the first 2-storey building constructed in a ‘European style’. The Museum was built by the Russian merchant M. Gudwintsal in 1905 as a trade centre, and was later rented to a bank before being occupied by a Russian military commander’s office in 1921. In 1930 it became the central department store Undur Delguur, and in 1961 the building was used for a permanent exhibition of the Union of Mongolian Artists, shortly after, in 1966, the Fine Arts Museum was founded.

Ancient Art
The earliest form of ancient Mongolian works of art represents simplified, stylized animal figures and symbols, painted by prehistoric nomads on the walls of the caves they inhabited. Such figures were typically painted using reddish-brown ochre, or engraved on the rock face using sharpened tools. As human civilization developed, so too did their artistic skill, which gradually became increasingly more detailed and intricate. The first artwork you can see in this room is a copy from the walls of a cave called Xoid Tsenxer (Xovd aimag, Manxan cym). The original drawing was made 40-12 thousands years ago in the Early Stone Age. It is painted with reddish brown ochre and you can see animal figures on it.

Tanka Painting
Tanka, or Thangka, is a Tibetan term meaning Buddhist painting. As portraits of religious figures and deities, thangkas are characterized by geometrically precise measurements that incorporate powerful symbolism from religious parables with artistic amplification. This type of artwork started to spread throughout Mongolia in the mid-17th century, reaching its peak in the 19th and 20th centuries. Mongolian artists often traveled to Tibet and India for study religious fine arts, but upon their return to Mongolia created highly-skilled works of art following the strict religious canons, whilst absorbing the unique features of the traditional Mongol painting style.

Tsam Masks and Costumes
Tsam religious customs emerged in ancient India and were introduced in Mongolia by way of Tibet, becoming widespread during the 19th century. Tsam of Ih Huree (Ulaanbaatar) is considered one of the grandest, elaborate and strongest of the Tsams performed not only in Mongolia but in all Buddhist regions. The Huree Tsam was performed from 1811-1937. The Tsam was an ensemble performance depicting the ‘wrathful eight deities’, with specially trained dancers performing in costumes and masks representing the various deities.

Folk Art:
For centuries the Mongolians have been utilizing their livestock raw materials, such as horns, bones, wool, hides, as well as materials found in the surrounding nature. Popular works of Mongolian handicraft art include embroidery, knit work, appliqué, needlework, felt, leather, bone and wood carving, steel and iron metalwork, gold and silver smith work, copper and brass hammering and papier-mâché from various ethnic groups. Craftspeople specialising in a particular handicraft unique to their own tools, techniques and recipes generally pass down their art to the next generation, thereby helping to continue their cultural heritage.

Woodblock Printing
The woodblock printing developed into an independent form of fine arts in the 6th century in Eastern Asia and during the Renaissance period in Europe. Originating in China, the woodblock printing technique spread throughout India, Tibet, Mongolia and Japan, following the dissemination of Buddhism. The Tibetan name of a woodblock board is ‘par’ which was adopted by the Mongolian language to be pronounced as ‘bar’. Woodblocks of various sizes, ranging from very small to a metre in diameter, would be carved to print various images from simple shapes to elaborated images of deities with multiple heads and arms. The image to be printed was carved as a relief matrix on a wooden board before being pressed on a piece of paper, silk or a fabric using a red mineral-based paint and black ink.

Zanabazar G. Art
G. Zanabazar (the first Bogdo of Khalkha, a reincarnation of Jebtsundamba, and often referred to as Öndör Gegeen). He is one of the most fascinating persons of Mongolian art history and Mongolian history in general. Öndör Gegen Zanabazar could study in Tibet thanks to the close political and religious connections between Tibet and Mongolia in the 17th century. This period was the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, the head of the Gelug sect (Yellow-hat sect), who lead the country as a theocratic ruler. Buddhism flourished in Tibet and lots of Mongolian monks studied in Lhasa. Among them one of the most significant persons was Zanabazar. Returning to Mongolia he started a unique career. As a reincarnation of Taranatha he received the name of Wisdom Vajra that is Jñāna-Vajra in Sanskrit and this name twisted to Zanabazar in everyday use. He studied in the monasteries of Kumbum, Tashilhunpo and Lhasa. He worked as a sculpture and architect, but he was a political and religious leader too.

Applique Art
Mongol applique, characterized by unique Mongolian styled designs and outstanding needlework, evolved from the early art of Xiongnu (Hunnu period 3rd century B.C) felt embroidery. Although this art form dates back to a 2,000 year old Mongolian tradition, it has not significantly developed outside of Mongolia. The museum collections include classical works of embroidery from the 19th and 20th centuries. These works are similar to Thangka paintings in their composition, color and content, but are unique in so far as their production requires extreme investments of time and effort, considerable patience and meticulous stitching of silk by artistic seamstresses. The applique is unique in its splendor and color detail. Its creation involving the contrasting of different colors of silk, embroidering with silk thread, and inlaying with the utmost precision to create an effect entirely different from that of drawings and paintings.

Mongolian Paintings
Mongol zurag refers to the traditional Mongol style of graphic arts developed under a range of influences, including nomadic conditions, traditional costumes, religious beliefs and climates. The works on display here, dating from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, have as their subjects nomads and their lifestyle, animals, cities, temples and monasteries. These drawings and paintings were created using various methods, typically either painted with natural earth pigments on cotton, or drawn with brush and ink on paper.

New discovery of nomad’s secret history
In this room you can find exhibits from an escavation carried out recently during which a 7-8th century tomb came into surface from the Turkish period. The creators dug 6 meters deep for a tomb of 4.5m x 5.6m x 2.8m in size with a dirt foundation 5 m high and 30 m in diameter, with a wall 110m x 96m to protect the tomb. It has entry hall way of 25 meters and covered by dirt but still noticeable from outside. The archeologists found the entry hall way first, cleaned out the overlying dirt and then reached the tomb. They have discovered wooden crafts, ceramic dolls of soldiers on horses with flags in their hands, and also ceramic dolls, horses, camels, cows, lions, fish, pheasants, pigs, male and female figures. Also, discovered were two blue square stones 75cm x 75cm, on top of which was written a biography of the person who was buried, and kept it near the tomb’s entry door. It had been long time, since archeologists discovered a stone with so many writings. It said that all the animals and dolls were created for the person’s next life (reincarnation), and represented his future wealth and good life and dedicated to his soul and pride.

The development of the Fine Arts Zanabazar Museum is part of the larger “UNESCO Programme for the Preservation of Endangered Movable Cultural Properties and Museum Development ” , initiated in October 2003 with main funding provided by the US Government. Least-developed countries, low income countries, and countries in transition are the target beneficiaries with UNESCO seeking to develop international and intra-regional cooperation for sustainable preservation of cultural heritage and for museum development. The programme provides on-site and in-service training opportunities designed to enhance the skills national and local museum staff. Projects are worldwide with several ongoing in the Asian region including: “ The Preservation of the Endangered Collection in the National Museum in Kabul , Afghanistan ”, and “The Preservation of Endangered Cultural Assets of Tajikistan ”.