| articles


The Arts of Tibetan Painting
Recent Research on Manuscripts, Murals and Thangkas of Tibet,
the Himalayas and Mongolia (11th -19th century)

Introduction by Amy Heller



I. Iconographical Treatise

Kimiaki Tanaka:
The Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa and the Origins of Thangka

The Hahn Cultural Foundation, Korea, has a unique thangka, 75.5 × 49.5 cm. This thangka depicts a Tathāgata seated on a lotus in the centre with his hands in the gesture of teaching (dharmacakrapravartanamudrā) and surrounded by various figures listening to his sermon. Below the central figure there is a gold-lettered inscription that reads “Homage to mthong ba don ldan” (mthong ba don ldan la na mo). In this paper, I will discuss the significance of the discovery of the tradition of thangka based on the Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa and the historical and stylistic development of Tibetan paintings.

II. Western Tibet and Western Himalayas

Eva Allinger and Christiane Kalantari (with an appendix by Gudrun Melzer):
Art, Mobility and Identity in the Western Himalayas: Notes on some rediscovered manuscripts in Western Tibet and Nepal and their artistic context

Recent finds in Western Tibet and their documentation as well as Nepal which were historically linked, substantially enlarged our knowledge of early Tibetan miniature painting. On the basis of illustrations on the frontispiece of the Yum‐chen mo (Prajñāpāramitā) manuscript at Pooh (Kinnaur), featuring a Māravijaya and a devotional scene, the processes of cultural transfer will be examined and the integration of models to make a wholly new artistic entity, creating an entirely new type of manuscript in comparison to those produced in India and Nepal. The study will analyze the relationship between text and image, transgressing as it were the ‘traditional’ borders between genres. The close connection between illuminated manuscripts and mural paintings in early Western Tibetan temples will be illustrated with concrete examples. In addition the study will examine in particular how architectural features and elements of material culture and luxury art were transformed to represent a typical sacred space and the way in which the importance of donors and ruling families were emphasized in a previously unknown form.

Petra Müller:
Representing Prajñāpāramitā in Tibet- the Temples of Nako, rKyang bu and Zha lu

The paper aims to identify representation models of depicting the goddess Prajñāpāramitā within specific iconographic concepts in the Indian Himalayas and Tibet of the 11th to 12th century in the monasteries of Nako, rKyang bu and Zha lu. The early textual sources and the iconographic configuration of the three monuments presented here validate the identification of two main modes of representing Prajñāpāramitā in the Indian Himalayas and Tibet and a third mode as a combined depiction.

Helmut F. Neumann and Heidi A. Neumann:
Wall Paintings of Pang gra phug: Augusto Gansser's Cave

In 1936, on his way to Kailash, the Swiss geologist Augusto Gansser discovered a cave with Buddhist wall paintings, a small photo of which he published in the expedition report. In 2007, we had the luck to rediscover this cave, high up in the eroded flank of a mountain. In this paper we analyse in full the substantial iconographic programme, assess the history and the aesthetic characteristics. Whereas the geometric design of the ceiling is clearly derived from earlier West Tibetan caves, the figurative paintings appear to be influenced by styles which flourished in South Tibet. Comparison with wall paintings in the vicinity of this cave and further to the East help to define their art-historical and religious position, and also lead to the proposal of a late13th century date.

Kurt Tropper:
Inscriptions and Captions of the Buddha-vita in Pang gra phug

The lower part of the central wall in the cave temple of Pang gra phug (mNga' ris) displays a band of painted scenes on the life of the Buddha, which are combined with 17 short captions and nine inscriptional panels of different lengths. Based on the photographic documentation that was prepared by Helmut and Heidi Neumann in 2007, the article provides an edition and annotated English translation of the captions and inscriptions. In addition, the contents of the epigraphs are compared with the corresponding passages in such well-known sources as the Lalitavistara (Tib. rGya cher rol pa) and the Vinayavastu (Tib. 'Dul ba gzhi).

III. Central Tibet

Shawo Khacham:
A study on the history and development of the chapel Klu Kha Stod Byams khang ('Phan Yul)

The mural paintings of this early temple of Central Tibet demonstrate aesthetic similarities with certain eleventh-century paintings in Zhalu, Yemar and Grathang, however the iconographic cycles depicted are quite distinct. Reputed to be founded by one of 'Brom ston's main teachers, the foundation inscription has been recently discovered. A preliminary analysis of the history and iconographic program of this temple, and its foundation inscription, is presented here.

Verena Ziegler:
A preliminary report on the life of Buddha Śākyamuni in the murals of the circumambulatory of the Prajñāpāramitā chapel in Zha lu

In the first floor of Zha lu monastery, on the inner side of the skor lam around the Prajñāpāramitā chapel, right next to the entrance door, there is a depiction of a larger than life-size Buddha with bhūmisparśa mudrā, flanked by two standing bodhisattvas and surrounded by numerous episodes of his historical life. Despite of some publications on the murals of Zha lu, no thorough analysis of this program from the renovation period in 1306 C.E. has yet been attempted. In this paper I identify each of the scenes from the depicted life of Buddha Śākyamuni and determine, through comparative analyses with early Tibetan thangka paintings, possible sources and a tentative Newar or Newar-Yuan influence on the murals.

Elena Pakhoutova:
A Wonderous Great Accomplishment: a Painting of an Event

This paper discusses an exceptional double-sided thang ka painting that employs a visual and a literary narrative to document and represent a construction of the stūpa to house relics of the third abbot of Gendungang monastery Zhonnu Changchub (gzhon nu byang chub, active in 13th – 14th century). The painting contains a large inscription rendered as a horizontal text panel.  Another side of the painting depicts an elaborate ceremony of this stūpa’s consecration, miraculous occurrences, and the final structure completed. The painting presents a special opportunity to study a confluence of cultural practices that involve creative expressions of commemoration of important occurrences within monastic lineages and methods of visual and biographical documentation.

Penba Wangdu:
A Study of mKhyen brtse chen mo dge bsnyen rnam rgyal, his mural paintings at Gong dkar chos sde and the mKhyen lugs school of Tibetan painting

This paper presents the first detailed study of mural paintings by the virtuoso artist mKhyen brtse dbang phyug (fl. 15th century) in the Gong dkar chos sde monastery. The specific iconography and stylistic characteristics of these paintings are examined here, as well as a presentation of several thangkas which are painted in the style of mKhyen lugs school of Tibetan painting.

Amy Heller:
Fourteen Thangka of the 'Brug pa bKa'  brgyud pa - an 18th century series of thangka linking Tibet and Bhutan in the Zimmerman Family Collection

This paper is the first study of this complete series of thangka representing 'Brug pa bKa' brgyud pa masters and their spiritual antecedents. The objective is to establish the iconographic program and the historic context in which this series was created, as well as to give an opportunity to appreciate the eclectic aesthetic style where delightful birds and animals accompany these vivid portraits of religious hierarchs in imaginary lanscapes.

IV. Eastern Tibet

Karl Debreczeny:
What Constitutes "the Hand of the Master"? Paintings attributed by inscription to Si tu Paṇ chen

The artistic activities of Si tu Pan chen Chos kyi ’byung gnas (1700-1774), a seminal figure in the history of Tibetan art, are well documented, providing rich insight into an artist and patron’s intentions, through his own words, as well as those of his contemporaries.  There is a great deal of information in particular in these textual sources about the famous sets designed and commissioned by Si tu. But what of paintings that do not fall into these categories, compositions that cannot be tracked in Si tu’s writings or the histories of his monastery? A group of paintings bearing inscriptions attributing them to the hand of Chos kyi snang ba, one of Si tu’s personal names, provides us with a unique opportunity to consider for the first time the issue of paintings by Si tu’s own hand. Such an inquiry is not without challenges; as more than one person in this tradition had the name Chos kyi snang ba, inscriptions themselves can be added later, paintings can be reattributed, and so on. This initial study involves a close comparison of formal aspects of the paintings themselves, as well as the content and the calligraphy of the inscriptions, to each other and outside textual sources, as part of my analysis of five works.

V. Mongolia

Elisabeth Haderer:
The Sacred and the Profane - On the representation of the first and second rJe btsun dam pa Khutukhtu in Mongolian Buddhist Art

As in Tibetan Buddhist art, the portraiture of Buddhist teachers (tib. bla ma) and high Buddhist representatives was a favored subject within Mongolian and Buryatian art.

In my paper, I analyze some Mongolian portraits of the first rJe btsun dam pa Khutukhtu Blo bzang bstan pa'i rgyal mtshan (1635–1723), Zanabazar, and the second rJe btsun dam pa Khutukhtu Blo bzang bstan pa'i sgron me (1724–1757). First, I make an attempt to define their specific iconographic and physiognomic features. As I proceed, I am especially interested in weather these features are tied to written sources of the rJe btsun dam pa Khutukhtus' hagiographies and weather it is possible to discern which prototypes the artists drew on for their representation. Second, I isolate stylistic features of the Mongolian and Buryatian paintings discussed.

Karenina Kollmar-Paulenz:
Teaching the Dharma in Pictures: Illustrated Mongolian Books of the Ernst Collection in Switzerland

The collection of Tibetan and Mongolian manuscripts and blockprints owned by Pr. Richard Ernst, Swiss Nobel laureate for chemistry (1991), includes beautifully illustrated Mongolian manuscripts and blockprints, belonging to the literary genre of jiruγ-tu nom, "books with illustrations". Used as a didactic means to emphasize Buddhist ethics and moral behaviour in times of social and economic change in the Mongolian steppes, these books reveal a complex relation between word and picture which requires a constant code switching. As synthetic works combining image and text, they are a new and unique form of communication, revealing a subtle shift of social agency from the monastic establishments and banner offices towards the common people.