Navin Kumar Gallery

8 Appendix


Tibetan paintings
Table of Contents:
Front matter
0 Preface
1 Introduction
2 Visions and Visualizations
3 Kadampa Style
4 Sakyapa Style
5 Thankas from Western Tibet
6 Landscape Tradition
7 Age of the Dalai Lama
8 Appendix
Color Plates
Monochrome Figures

In Chapter 3, footnote 19, I alluded to an early painting in the Kadampa style which was not available for publication when this book went to press. Since then, the painting has been acquired by Mr. and Mrs. John Gilmore Ford. As this thanka is of fundamental importance for the early history of Tibetan painting, as well as for that of Indian Buddhist painting, the publisher, Mr. Ravi Kumar, has kindly consented to add this appendix in order to make the book more complete in relation to the history of thankas. The painting once belonged to the late Eleanor Olson of Newark Museum.

At first glance the thanka seems to relate to the other early Kadampa style thankas published here, in composition, figural forms, as well as coloring. However, a closer look also clearly establishes a more direct kinship with Pāla art of Bihar and Bengal as known from both manuscript illuminations and sculpture. Once or two correlations will be pointed out here.

The lotus with its curling vines and adoring nagas is a common device seen frequently in Pāla sculptures. The figural forms of the deities, whether of the other manifestations of the Goddess Tārā on either side, her companions wearing red blouses, the elegant Buddhas or of the animated nagas, are remarkably close to those seen in Pāla manuscript illuminations of the eleventh or twelfth century. What is perhaps the most striking feature of this painting is the manner in which the mountains have been rendered. Each of the figures is represented against a rocky background, the stylization of the rocks being more reminiscent of a fence of staves rather than the cubist and prismatic rock formations preferred by the Indian painters of Ajanta or Nepali artists. On the other hand, this particular type of rock formation is frequently seen in the early murals at Pagan in Burma (G. H. Luce, reference cited in Chapter 3, note 22). One may therefore be tempted to consider this a Burmese painting, but except for the rock motif, the other elements of style differ notably from Burmese paintings. In any event, we have encountered the usage of this motif in another early Tibetan painting illustrated as Plate 6.

The only common source from which both the Burmese and the Tibetans could have borrowed the rock motif at the same time was of course the Pāla style. In Plate 5, I have illustrated four illuminations from a Pāla manuscript of the twelfth century in which this stave like rock motif is prominent. There seems little doubt, therefore, that this painting of Tārā and the Jucker portrait are two Kadampa style paintings that are not only among the earliest in Tibet but are closest in style to Pāla paintings on cloth. Except for the portrait of the monk in the lower left hand corner of the painting, there is very little that is specifically recognizable as Tibetan. Both the monk’s face and his vest, however, indicate that a Tibetan rather than an Indian monk is intended here. Thus, the thanka was very likely painted in Central Tibet for a Kadampa monastery, but its astonishing affinity with Pāla art makes us wonder of the artist was not an Indian from Bihar. A twelfth century date seems certain from an initial examination.