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Conserving a Tibetan Altar
December 9, 2006 - May 27, 2007
Home Altar
Home Altar, Late 19th - early 20th century
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Conserving a Tibetan Altar
December 9, 2006 - May 27, 2007
Magnificent temples are not the only place where Tibetan altars are used. Tibetan-Buddhist lay practitioners usually reserve a sacred space in their homes where ritual worship is performed daily. Wealthy families often designate one or more rooms in their homes as altar-rooms where they install fabulously painted wooden altars that house sublime sculptures, sacred books, and ornate ritual implements.

In 2004, the Museum acquired a spectacular Tibetan altar adorned with intricately carved niches and lively paintings that highlight domestic themes. However, many layers of smoke and oils obscured the brilliant colors of the altar’s paintings—a result of countless burnt offerings of incense and butter-lamps. This installation displays—for the first time—the Museum’s newly cleaned altar and discusses both the conservation of the altar as well as its cultural context. X-rays and samples of paint-layers reveal hidden mysteries of the altar’s construction and decoration, while elaborate ritual objects, such as incense burners, libation ewers and butter-lamps, illuminate the ritual beauty of Tibetan devotional art.


Funds to conserve the altar generously provided by the Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.


Katherine Anne Paul • Associate Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art
Anne Kingery • Kress Fellow in Objects Conservation
Beth Price • Senior Scientist for Conservation


Gallery 232, second floor