Table of Contents:
2 Visions and Visualizations
3 Kadampa Style
4 Sakyapa Style
5 Thankas from Western Tibet
6 Landscape Tradition
7 Age of the Dalai Lama
Giuseppe Tucci’s monumental book on Tibetan religious paintings known as thankas was published in 1949 and still remains the major contribution to this subject. Since then, many books have been published on Tibetan art, but none has been devoted to a history and analysis of the styles of Tibetan thankas. Thankas are perhaps the most admired of all Tibetan aesthetic expressions. Since much new material has emerged from Tibet and elsewhere in recent decades, a fresh review of thankas is necessary. This book is the first attempt since Tucci’s publication to provide the scholar and the interested reader with a lucid and connected account of the history of thankas from eleventh through the nineteenth centuries.
In writing this book, I am aware of the many problems inherent in this field. Few thankas are dated or easily datable. Because of the conservative religious tradition of the country, styles of art did not change as rapidly here as they did in other cultures. The provenance of the thankas is often unknown, and because of their easy portability, we are often uncertain of a thanka’s origination. This, of course, makes it difficult to associate a given style with a particular geographical region. Many of the Tibetan temple murals are more easily datable than thankas, and hence a comparison between murals and thankas could considerably facilitate the dating of thankas. Unfortunately there is a lack of published information regarding these murals. Photography is severely restricted and most of the murals remain unfamiliar. Notwithstanding such drawbacks, an attempt has been made here to place the thankas in their stylistic and chronological context and to build an infrastructure for their study from a stylistic and aesthetic rather than iconographic viewpoint. Future research and discoveries will require modification of some of the attributions, but it is hoped that the outline sketched here will provide a firm basis for the continued study of thankas.
We are indebted to many individuals and institutions for granting us permission to reproduce paintings from their collections. Institutions include the Bharat Kala Bhavan (Banaras), Cleveland Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), National Museum (New Delhi), Victoria and Albert Museum (London) and Virginia Museum (Richmond). We are especially grateful to the individual collectors for their enthusiastic contributions.
Among others who have helped are Michael Henss; Navin Kumar Jain; Reverend Phuntsok Dorje of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra for kindly translating some of the inscriptions; Miss Sonya Rimock for her judicious and sympathetic editing; Dixie Fusillo for patiently typing the manuscript.
Once again, it was a great pleasure to cooperate with the publisher, Ravi Kumar, who conceived the idea of this book a number of years ago.