art first of all is religious, Buddhist art. In Tibetan art the most common
are two types of images: the sculpture and thangka.
Thangka is the Buddhist icon made on the fabric, it can be rolled up and
so it’s easy to keep and carry.
• The origin of Buddhist art Gautama Buddha, or Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha, or Buddha Śākyamuni
was the founder of teaching, known as Buddhism. He lived in India in 5th
century BC. “Buddha” is not proper name, in ancient India it was the title
meaning “awakened one” or “the enlightened one.”
During the life of the Buddha there were no
pictures of him, his image wasn’t the objects of religious worship. Buddha
told his disciples to follow his Teachings, the Dharma, and not to perform
various kinds of religious activities. After his passed away the first
images that symbolizing the Doctrine became the wheel of Dharma with eight
spokes, the Bodhi tree, the imprints of the feet of Buddha, or an empty
• How did Buddha really look?
While it says that there were no Buddha’s lifetime images, according old
legends such images had been created. The first is the
sculpture — Sandalwood Buddha.
So, when the Buddha was in heaven preaching the Dharma of his dead mother
Maya, raja Udayana (or in other source raja Prasenajit) wanted to see an
Enlightened Master. He told his palace masters make the statue of Buddha,
and they made the sandalwood statue in the natural size. When Śākyamuni
Buddha returned to earth, a statue made six steps to meet him. Buddha said
that it’s really like him and made the prophecy that where it will go, there
will be a flowering of Buddhism.
Russian scientist Andrey Terentyev conducted a detailed historical research
and published the book “The Sandalwood Buddha of the King Udayana” in 2010,
there the long history of this remarkable statue is described.
There were any more statues made,
according to the legends, during the life of the Buddha. God Indra (Shakra)
asked the great Indian master Vishvakarman create the statue for the humans.
The artist created three images of the Buddha: the 8-year-old, a 12-year,
25-year-old from precious metals and stones.
The last statue was taken to the heaven — the
realm of the gods, at the age of 12 years in China and at the age of 8 years
in Nepal. They remained in these countries for many years, until the last
two were transported to Tibet (by China and Nepal brides of Tibetan king
Songtsen Gampo) and installed on the altars in temples in Lhasa.
The 12-year image of
Buddha is the most famous statue in Tibet — Jowo Rimpoche.
• How the first drawings of Buddha were
received The firstdrawing image,
which was created during the life of Buddha and actually under his guidance,
is the picture “The wheel of existence”(sanskrit ‘bhavacakra’). According to the legend,
in Buddha Śākyamuni time there lived Bimbisara, raja of Magadha. Once he
received from Roruka’s raja Rudrayana (a.k.a. raja Udayana) precious gift.
Wishing return the gift Bimbisara ordered his artist to draw the Buddha’s
portrait. But Buddha radiated such a strong glow that it was really
impossible to look at him. That is why the Buddha set on the bank in
lotus-asana, and artist captured his reflection in the water. This image was
called “The form, obtained by reflection,” or “The sage’s image
taken from water.”Around the Teacher artist draw the 12-chains wheel of
existence, that depicts our world — the world of
suffering. The other raja — Rudrayana — having
meditated on it throughout the night, reached the level of ‘non-return’ —
progress which would otherwise take years, or even lifetimes.
The other legend concerns the time then the
Buddha stayed in Kapilavastu. The local queen sent her maidservant Rohita
with gift to the Buddha, but by the way girl were killed. After death she
rebirthed as the princess of Sri Lanka, and once she sent Buddha the letter
and a lot of pears. Buddha in response to her gift sent the portrait, there
his body was surrounded by halo of light. According to the legend the artist
outlined the Buddha’s shadow on the canvas. These kind of Buddha’s
proportions is known as “The form obtained by light,” or “The shining
The proportions of Buddha image remain
unchanged since very ancient times. In different cultures could be certain
features (e.g. elongated ushnisha, connected on the same line eyebrows,
pointed or rounded shape of the nose, more or less the length and thickness
of the earlobes, etc.), but the basis is always the same.
In future, while Buddhism spread throughout
the world, the Buddhist art blossomed greatly. There were created the
countless examples of Buddhist art in architecture, sculpture and fine arts.
Buddhist art has become a kind of ‘visual Dharma,’ presenting and
transmitting the Buddha’s Teachings.
• The arrival Buddhism to Tibet.
The history of Buddhism in Tibet effectively begins in 641 CE. In that
year, king Songtsen Gampo unified Tibet through military conquest
and took two Buddhist wives, princess Wen Cheng of China and
princess Bhrikuti of Nepal. The princesses are credited with
introducing their husband to Buddhism.
Each of king’s Songtsen Gampo wives
brought to Tibet a precious dowry, the Nepal princess a lot of sacred
images and 8-year-old statue of the Buddha, and the daughter of the
emperor of China — a statue of the Buddha at
the age of 12 years (both images till now are in Lhasa). These were the
first examples of which the many generations of artists and sculptors
were guided by.
Chinese princess Wen Cheng was a beautiful woman of superb talents, she
played a major role in stabilizing relations and cultural exchange
between China and Tibet. Also she brought to Tibet seeds of high-land
barley and farming technology, as well as great quantifies of Buddhist
classics, medical and astronomical books, all of which greatly advanced
Tibet’s development. Her image was greatly venerated in Tibet. Princess
Bhrikuti, the Nepalese wife of king, brought from Nepal to Tibet a lot
of painted images, such as Avalokirteshvara and other Nepalese deities.
Songtsen Gampo built the first Buddhist temples in Tibet, he also
ordered the Nepalese masters many sacred images. Later, His Holiness 5th
Karmapa (the beginning of the 15th centuty) ordered to make a mural
painting of several monasteries and also ordered a lot of thangkas in
Nepalese style. Many images such as White Tara, Maitreya and other
deities were made in the 1500s in order the 2nd Dalai Lama. In fact the
Tibetan art formed through great interpenetration of styles: Indian,
Nepalese and Chinese.
Thankga can be defined as
something that is painted on a scroll and can be easily carried from
place to place. Another term, used rarely, is reidri — a painting on a
cotton cloth. Besides the usual thangkas on the ground cloth (most
popular size is 75x50 cm) the images can be painted on the wall, rock,
stone, embroidered or done as applique work. The size varies from tiny
images made for bearing on the body is small boxes to giant thangkas
prepared for some special event.
• The history of Tibetan
thangka-painting and establishing the Karma Gardri style
Tibetan art was forming under influence of Indian, Chinese and Nepal art.
In the 7th centure Tibetan king Songtsan Gampo married Chinese and
Nepalese princesseswho then brought with them
Buddhist art to Tibet. With the spread of Buddhism in Tibet, the
Buddhist art become very popular there. There were established three
styles of Tibetan painting: Mengri, Gardri and Mangsar.
The first style Mengri was developed
by Menla Dondrub in 1440 in Southern Tibet. He studied under the artist
Dhopa Tashi Gyatso, master in Nepalese style painting. Menla Dondrub revised
true proportions of deities and religious objects, developed new pigments
and defined the spiritual qualities of artist.
The second style Karma Gardri was formed in
Western Tibet in 16th century by His Holiness the 8th Karmapa Mikyö
Dorje (1507-1554). The founder of this style was Namka Tashi,
an incarnate artist. Namkha Tashi studied with Kunchok Phendey
who was himself considered to be an emanation of the Chinese princess
Wen Cheng. [Copies of Kunchok Phendey's nine thangkas see
The main sources for this style were:
1) Chinese scroll painting, offered to the Karmapa by Chinese emperor;
2) painted masks, depicting the moment when the face of the Third
Karmapa appeared on the full moon;
3) Chinese thangka of the sixteen arhats.
The meaning of the name of this style is the following:
“karma” is derived from the word “Karmapa,” “gar” means “camp” and “dri”
is “to draw.” So, it means that the style was formed and mostly used by
painters who travelled with Karmapa and his religious camp in Tibet,
spreading the Buddha teaching.
Lineage of Karma Gardri includes a lot of eminent persons. The 8th
Karmapa Mikyö Dorje (1507-1554) by himself was the excellent artist,
10th Karmapa Chöying Dorje (1604-1674) was skilled in the carving,
sculpture and silk embroidery. Many other Karmapas, Shamarpas, Karma
Kagye teachers and yogis were real masters in painting and sculpture. (Many
thangkas of 10th Karmapa see
and few statuettes —
The 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje pointed out three
distinctive features — so called ‘Three jewels of Gardri style’:
1) forms according Indian tradition;
2) the colouring and texture of the Chinese method;
3) composition and land shafts are typical for Tibetan manner.
Transparent landscapes, close to the Chinese tradition
are the features of Gardri style. Gardri thangka is realistic, soft
shading, very delicate, harmonious colouring. The landscape is performed
in the special painting technique. A lot of dots or strokes are put on
canvas’ surface; intensive colour is achieved by the multi-layering
points. The technique is extremely time-taking, but it allows to achieve
softness of colour and the effect of glowing. Sky, clouds, rivers and
waterfalls, snow-top mountains and hills, trees, flowers, birds and
animals painted like really Tibetan. Thangkas in Gardri style were quite
rare in Tibet and were highly valued.
Later, the big role in developing and spreading of Karma Gardri style
belong to two other of “three Tashis”: artists Cho Tashi and Kasho Karma
The last style, Mangsar or New Mengri, was developed by
incarnated master Choyang Gyatso in 1645 and was spread in Eastern Tibet.
The style was based on the Mengri painting school but with some
differences in the tone, pigments and texture.
As said, many Karmapas, Shamarpas and Situ-incarnations were
improved masters in painting, sculpture, poetry, etc.
Two works attributed to 10th Karmapa Chöying Dorje are kept in St.
Petersburg’s Hermitage, Russia. 1st —
silk thangka, the Buddha Sakiamuni image, and 2nd — the
Avalokiteshvara. The HH 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye
Dordje during his visit to Russia in June, 2009, visited the Hermitage
and saw his own previous incarnation’s artworks.
When HH 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje
not busy he works in painting, poetry, singing and drama.
His Holiness the
17th Karmapa learns
painting and Calligraphy.
See YouTube Part