Buddhist Art and Architecture in Tibet
Summary and Keywords
Tibetan Buddhists view images primarily as religious supports and secondarily as works of art. Buddhist images are aimed at improving one’s karma by earning merit in view of future existences, at removing obstacles, and at creating wellbeing. Their commissioning may be occasioned by various circumstances, including illness and death, besides the need for a specific religious practice. Since they are primarily expressions of faith, their age has a limited importance and their originality hardly any: a religious image is valued less for its rarity and aesthetic value than for its apotropaic virtues and for its particular connection with a holy place or master. Hence the application of Western post-Medieval aesthetic criteria to the appreciation of Tibetan art ought to be complemented by an appreciation of the specific religious meaning of an image, the interpretation of its particular symbolism, and the aim of its client within the specific cultural and historical context in which it was produced.
This article is preceded by a historical introduction sketching the development of Buddhist art and architecture in Tibet from the 7th to the present century, mentioning the role played by foreign artists, mostly Newars from the Nepal Valley, and dwelling on particularly significant monuments, such as the monastery of Sàmye (8th century) and the Great Stupa of Gyantsé (15th century), representing the two highest moments in the history of Tibetan religious art and architecture, the Pòtala being basically a fortified palace.
The first section, on Tibetan Buddhist art, deals with iconography and iconometry as well as materials and techniques, contrasting the prevalent approach to the subject by collectors, and even art historians, with that of Buddhist masters and devotees, pointing out the importance of the consecration of images, without which the latter remain worthless from a religious point of view.
The second section, on Tibetan Buddhist architecture, deals with the construction of religious buildings, their materials, their religious functions and their symbolism. Although stupas are referred to throughout the article, they are dealt especially in this section.
Sanskrit terms, whether in phonetic transcription or in transliteration, prevail in the first section because the relevant terminology is largely the Tibetan translation of Indian Buddhist terms, Tibetan terms in phonetic transcription and transliteration prevail in the second section, except in the part dealing with the stupa.
Geo-cultural Tibet has been the arrival point of artistic expressions that reached it in two periods corresponding to the phases of the spread of Buddhism in the country: the imperial age, from the early 7th to the mid-9th century; and the period during which the clergy gained an increasingly political role, from the 11th to the mid-20th century. Many of the artists and artisans active in Tibet during the former period where foreigners, especially Newars from the Nepal Valley, who in the year 639 started the construction of the Jokhàng at Rasa (later Lhasa), fashioned most of the earliest images housed in it, and have been active for Tibetan patrons since. A third period, which has not been the object of systematic research yet, is represented by the reconstruction following the end of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet proper, while elsewhere in geo-cultural Tibet, notably in Ladàk and Bhutan, traditional artists have continued to produce paintings and statues for their monasteries, temples, and shrines.
Buddhist art and architecture reached a peak under the greatest of Tibetan rulers, Tri Songdétsen (Tib. Khri Srong-lde-brtsan, 742–800; ruled 756–797), who adopted Buddhism as the official religion of Tibet. Three of his wives sponsored the construction of the first Buddhist monastery (767–779) to house the earliest monastic community in Tibet: Sàmye (Tib. Bsam-yas, “Inconceivable”; Figure 1), in the political and religious heart of the country, between the Yarlùng Valley, where the imperial necropolis lies, and Lhasa, the seat of its most important Buddhist temple.
In spite of the fact that Buddhist architecture in geo-cultural Tibet, including Indian and Nepalese Tibet as well as Bhutan, is different from the Indian one, its symbolism is related to Indian Buddhism. In particular, the original plan of Sàmye, according to Tibetan tradition, was meant to reproduce the Indian cosmogony: the main building at the center symbolizes Mount Meru, the axis of the world; the twelve satellite temples surrounding it conjure up the four main continents facing the cardinal points and the pairs of small continents flanking each main continent; two other temples symbolize the sun and moon; and the wall encircling the monastic compound evokes the chain of mountains surrounding the world. Four large stupas, mound-like architectural structures of Indian origin meant to house Buddhist relics, are placed symmetrically at the corners of the compound.
Tibetan artists and artisans were formed by foreign colleagues, even Kashmirian, also during the second phase of the development of Buddhist art in Tibet. Again, the Newar ones, having inherited the northern Indian aesthetics of the Pala Buddhist dynasty of Bengal and Bihar, and of the following Sena one, played an important role particularly in the monasteries built in Southwest Tibet by the prince-abbots of the monastery of Sàkya, who had managed to control the country thanks to the protection of the Yüan dynasty.1 The weight of Indo-Newar aesthetics on Buddhist art in Tibet was so important that the Tibetan scholar Kongtrül (Tib. Kong-sprul, 1813–1899) wrote that, up to the time of the Tibetan painter Mènthangpa (Tib. Sman-thang-pa), the first half of the 15th century, Tibetan painting had been in Newar style.2 Mènthangpa incorporated Chinese features particularly in his landscapes, which added to the earlier adoption of the Chinese style by Tibetan artists in the depiction of some iconographic themes such as those of the Four Great Guardian Kings and of the Sixteen Sthaviras (“Elders”), a group of early disciples of the Buddha chosen by the latter to preserve his teachings according to tradition.
The most sophisticated Buddhist monument in Tibetan art and architecture is the monastic center raised from 1427 to about 1440 by the rulers of Gyantsé in Southwest Tibet, where the best painters and sculptors from the region were called to decorate the many temples and chapels in the main monastic building and on the eight floors of the nearby Great Stupa known as Kùmbum (Tib. Sku-’bum, “One Hundred Thousand Images”; Figure 2), in which architecture, sculpture, and painting combine in a single encyclopedic, iconographic project illustrating the main schools of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. The control of Tibet, taken in the 17th century by the 5th Dalai Lama, an eminent scholar as well as a ruthless politician, and thanks to the military support of a Mongol ruler, meant the loss of independence for Southwest Tibet and of other Tibetan regions, but also a renovated artistic activity in the monasteries of his religious order, the Ghelùkpa (Dge-lugs-pa, “the School of Virtue”), and in those taken over by it.
The political and cultural symbol of the Dalai Lamas’ temporal and religious power was represented by the construction of the two palaces, the Red one (1645–1648) and the White one (1692–1694), built on the Red Hill near Lhasa. The Red Hill came to be known as Pòtala, a mythical south Indian mountain abode of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, of whom the Dalai Lamas have been regarded as manifestations. The palatine complex was conceived as both a palace (Tib. pho-brang) and a fortress (Tib. rdzong), and was built in a strategic position on the model of earlier castles in geo-cultural Tibet. Its construction involved about 7,000 workers and over 1,500 artists and artisans, including 182 Newars, ten Manchurian and Mongolian ones, and seven Chinese.3
Being the illustration of thousands of Indian Buddhist texts translated into Tibetan and included in the canonical literature of various schools, religious art in Tibet has been conditioned by iconographic and iconometric rules that have contributed to the conservation of its Buddhist traditions, though painters have enjoyed some freedom in the representation of common people, animals, landscapes, and buildings. Although Tibetan artists have inherited different iconometric traditions affording variations in the proportions of religious images and in spite of the variety of iconographic traditions related to the particular teachings of each Buddhist school, in the course of time there were a progressive standardization of iconometry and a reduction of proportions, especially in the Ghelùkpa tradition, sometimes making figures a bit stiff (see Figure 10).
No major development in Buddhist art and architecture seems to have occurred in Tibet following the establishment of the Manchu protectorate in 1720.
Since the Communist invasion of Tibet, completed in 1959, and the subsequent colonization of the country, Chinese art historians have shown interest in the classification and preservation of what are now termed “Cultural Relics,” which is not surprising considering the century-old interest of the Yüan, Ming, and Qing dynasties in Tibetan Buddhism as well as the presence of lamas with Chinese followers in China proper. However, during the period of the so-called Cultural Revolution, most Tibetan monasteries were destroyed by the Red Guards, both Chinese and Tibetan, who invaded the Jokhàng in August 1966, damaged it, and set on fire a number of religious texts.
At the time of the Cultural Revolution the metalware of the temples, including roofs, religious emblems, ritual objects, and statues, were taken to foundries to be melted and transformed into ingots. Some were saved from destruction; others were sold and eventually reached the antiquarian market of Hong Kong. Since the fall of the Maoist regime, scores of Tibetan artisans and artists have been involved in the reconstruction and restoration of monasteries and temples in Tibet proper. Indeed, they have never stopped building temples and monasteries, as well as producing religious images and ritual objects elsewhere in geo-cultural Tibet and among the Tibetan diaspora, notably in India and Nepal. Their activity has often been ignored in the West, generally because of common antiquarian prejudices.
Most monasteries have been rebuilt in Tibet by Buddhist communities including a variety of sponsors, as shown by the instances of the monastery of Tsurpu, whose reconstruction started in 1983–1984 on the initiative of a Tibetan lama, thanks to funds collected by the Hawaii-based Tsurpu Foundation, and the monastery of Drangò, in eastern Tibet, which was being extensively renovated with funds from the local and regional authorities as well as from local people in the diaspora during the second half of the 1990s. The monastery of Sàmye and the Pòtala palace were restored with funds from the central government, since such monuments are regarded as part of the cultural heritage of the People’s Republic of China.
Traditional Western approaches to Tibetan art have been largely aesthetic, often more concerned with the style, dating, and iconographic identification of an image than with the motivation as well as purpose lying behind its creation, namely the specific cultural setting in which it originated. Tibetan Buddhist images, mutually isolated when shown outside their original architectural context, ought to be imagined within structured spaces sacred and significant to the people who commissioned and manufactured them. That is particularly true for wall painting, which is actually part of the architectural structure supporting it (Figure 4 and see Figure 6).
A correct approach to Tibetan art should take into account the Buddhist notion of a religious space within which divine as well human beings are distributed hierarchically, both vertically and horizontally, around an ideal center, starting from the main shrine and temples in which images are found and for which they were commissioned according to criteria reflecting specific aspects of the Buddhist doctrine, to the entrance porch generally painted with the Wheel of Existence, representing the Buddha’s vision corresponding to his Enlightenment, and the Four Great Guardian Kings protecting the very doctrine issued from that vision, namely the Dharma.
Buddhist art in Tibet has been conditioned by the adoption of mostly Indian iconographic and iconometric traditions, both written and oral, in a religious context in which the divine is primary, while the artist representing it is subordinate, and his creation is an act of devotion, as it has been in Christian art. As a consequence, the value of a Buddhist image is primarily religious and apotropaic, only secondarily aesthetic, which means that, to appreciate it, some Westerners ought to abandon prejudices accumulated since the Renaissance, including an obsession for originality at all costs in spite of the fact that copying was common not only in the Greek, Roman, and Medieval worlds, but even in Renaissance Europe, and has been in icon-painting to this day. Then they would be admitted to an art in which “copying” is implicit in the adoption of iconographic and iconometric rules (see Figure 10), and sometimes specifically required by a patron.4
Traditional artists, in particular sculptors, are called in Tibetan “deity-makers” (lha-bzo-ba), and the ability of the most famous ones is sometimes celebrated in Tibetan texts and inscriptions mentioning their names. Their role in the illustration and preservation of Buddhism cannot be overstated in a society that was largely illiterate until the past century, and in which reading was a prerogative of the clergy and ruling classes, writing being an ability confined to scribes.
Since religious images represent particular moments in the Buddha’s life and in Buddhist history or specific doctrinal aspects of Buddhism including well-defined divine forces, they are bound to follow iconographic conventions expressing a precise symbolism: postures, gestures, attitudes, expressions, attributes, emblems, colors, and mounts as well as the proportions of different deities are given in some of the thousands of Buddhist texts that were carefully translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan starting from the second half of the 8th century. Religious images must be fashioned in conformity with iconographic conventions and iconometric rules, without which they cannot be consecrated and used for the very purpose they have been commissioned for.
Statues should not be regarded as religiously active before being consecrated. For that purpose, they may be filled with prayers and invocations, handwritten or wood-printed on paper rolls, and also with spices, medicinal plants, seeds, clay, sacrificial cakes known as “torma” (Tib. gtor-ma), precious substances, and even coins, which are stored according to specific criteria within the various sections (head, trunk, legs, and stand) of large seated metal images. In the case of high standing metal statues and large clay ones, they may be introduced into the images through a small “door” at their back. Portable images painted on canvas (Tib. thang-ka) are framed within cloth, possibly silk and brocade, according to a precise code of proportions, with a central “door” in a different color stitched in the lower section of the frame. Statues and paintings may be accompanied by invocations, prayers, and dedicatory inscriptions, often in verses, chased on the stands of metal images and brush-written on the front or back of painted canvases, where the footprints or handprints of important lamas may be also found. Finally valuable materials, including textiles and jewelry, may be used to dress statues.
Religious images are then ready to be consecrated through appropriate rituals (Tib. rab-gnas, literally “full abiding”) meant to vivify them by calling their spirit to abide in them, implying that they have been fashioned correctly, and sometimes lasting several days. Since no innovation is allowed unless it is specifically requested by a lama, the pleasure that one may feel facing the numberless representations of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, goddesses, wrathful and peaceful deities, the complex forms of tantric iconography with its sexual imagery, as well as the kaleidoscopic geometry of màndalas, generally representing a figure at the center of its palace resting on a huge lotus flower, surrounded by a wall of thunderbolts and a ditch of flames, does not depend upon the artist’s choice.
Since its beginnings in the 8th century, Buddhist art in Tibet has inherited symbols and motifs from and sometimes through India, as in the case of the lotus flower, which ultimately originated in Eastern Mediterranean countries, or the swastika and acanthus-like scrolls, found in the Greek world, whereas the stylization of clouds, flames, waves, and sometimes, rocks has Chinese origins. Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and tutelary and protecting deities have been depicted mostly in the style of India, the country they derive from, sometimes through its rendition by Newar artists from the Nepal Valley or by Kashmirian artists. The well-known series of sixteen Indian Arhats (“Worthy Ones”) known as Sthaviras has been regularly portrayed in Chinese style, while the Four Great Kings protecting the Dharma in the cardinal directions display Central Asian features. Trees, flowers, and animals are painted sometimes in Indian style, as in the case of the lotus flower and the Indian sea monster known as makara, or sometimes in Chinese style, as in the case of the dragon. The earliest example of stylized lion, found in the imperial necropolis in the Yarlùng Valley, has been variously related to Newar, Chinese, Central Asian, and Persian sculpture.5
The coexistence of such elements, sometimes amalgamated, sometimes identifiable, allows recognizing an image as specifically Tibetan rather than “Indian” or “Chinese.” Indeed, Tibetan aesthetics represent the confluence of different foreign styles of which artists, patrons and scholars in Tibet have been aware over the course of time, well after the great season of Buddhist art had ceased to exist in India itself.6 In particular, Tibetan historical and hagiographic sources contain references to 15th-, 16th-, or 17th-century patrons who had images fashioned “in the style of India.”7 Copying earlier images and foreign styles has been a traditional and innocent practice in Tibet, as elsewhere, until today.8
The main reason for commissioning religious images is to earn merits in order to achieve four kinds of objectives: removing sickness or troubles; obtaining a long and healthy life; creating the conditions necessary to drive a dead relative towards a happy birth; or performing a particular religious practice. The subject of an image is selected in relation to its function: the goddess Tārā will generally be selected in the first case for her ability to save from perils; Amitāyus (Figure 3), the transcendent Buddha of “Infinite Life,” will be preferred in the second case; Śākyamuni, the historical Buddha, is often chosen in the third case. Some images, such as the scenes illustrating the Wheel of Existence and the episodes from the Buddha’s life or previous lives, perform chiefly a didactic role. Others, like the portraits of religious masters, have a special meaning for the latter’s disciples.
When present, inscriptions on paintings and statues, generally wishing the final liberation of all sentient beings, may play the role of captions. Besides describing specific figures, they may quote the titles of related religious texts and bear the names of patrons, artists, and even religious masters who oversaw their execution. They hardly ever afford dates, but the names of people mentioned in them may provide at least a terminus post quem.
Dating Tibetan religious images is complicated by the circumstance that copying has been a normal procedure in traditional Buddhist art and Indian statues of the Pala-Sena period were copied in Tibet as late as in the 18th century. The quality of an image is not a guarantee, for one may come across fine traditional contemporary images and roughly made ancient ones. In the absence of reliable inscriptions and historical references, dating cannot be based on stylistic analysis alone, which has proved even less reliable since the end of the 1960s, when collecting Tibetan and Himalayan art started to be more fashionable and images aged artificially began to be produced to suit the predominatingly antiquarian tastes of collectors. Unlike those fashioned by the same artists for Buddhist monasteries, temples, and private shrines, including those of the royal family of Bhutan, such images should not be regarded as religious art for the simple reason that they were not produced for religious purposes. Their production has become increasingly sophisticated, to the point of deceiving even specialists, particularly in the case of metal statues fashioned by the most skillful artists of the Nepal Valley who work for Buddhist and Hindu patrons as well as for monasteries and temples not only in the Himalayas, but elsewhere in Buddhist Asia, including Tibet proper, as they had done until the Cultural Revolution. Dating problems for images painted on cloth and carved in wood, including book covers, are not as serious as they are for metal and stone ones, for they may be dated by carbon-14 tests.9
Iconography and Iconometry
From a Buddhist viewpoint, a religious image becomes functional only through consecration by appropriate rituals performed by a lama (bla-ma, Tib. for “guru”) and calling the deity to abide in it. The consecration may be refused if the image has not been fashioned correctly. For their work, artists can resort to iconometric drawings affording the iconography and proportions of images as well as to the instructions of a lama, who can base himself on specific texts whose titles and even sections may be mentioned in related inscriptions, for example in the temples and chapels in monastic compounds of Shalù and Gyantsé, where the names of lamas having supervised the execution of images may be found. The cubit (Tib. khru), or finger (Tib. sor-mo) of an important devotee may be used as the basic unit of measurement for an image or a building.10
Whereas iconography should be understood as the representation of figures according to sets of conventions that are recorded also in the textual tradition, iconometry is a codified system of relative proportions for each class of figures, varying according to the commentarial literature of different tantric texts such as the Kālacakra (pron. “Kalachakra”; see Figure 6) and Saṃvarodaya tantras. Buddhas, tantric tutelary deities with Buddha rank (Tib. ’dod-lha, yi-dam), Bodhisattvas, Guardians of the Buddhist Doctrine (Dharmapālas), goddesses (Devīs), religious masters, and so forth.11 Images may portray deities presiding over particular teachings, such as those symbolized by the goddess Prajñāpāramitā (“Perfection of Wisdom,” often called Yum-chen-mo, namely “Great Mother” in Tibetan), or those related to specific tantras translated into Tibetan and found in the canonical collections of Buddhist texts, such as the tutelary deities Vajrabhairava, Hevajra or Saṃvara in their various manifestations.
Given the vastness of Buddhist literature, there cannot be a complete record of all the figures described in the thousands of texts translated into Tibetan and included in the Bka’-’gyur and Bstan-’gyur canonical collections, nor in the related commentarial literature, nor in the extra-canonical texts (Tib. gter-ma). Not all deities have been necessarily portrayed, while the Tibetan pantheon has been subject to a process of accretion because the representation of contemporary religious masters and their specific visions has continued to our times and will be so as long as Buddhism is practiced in Tibet. So none of the iconographic collections put together by scholars may be regarded as exhaustive.
Figures may be portrayed standing, seated, flying, or even lying down, as in the case of the dying Buddha, and also under different aspects, peaceful, wrathful, or semi-wrathful, always surrounded by a halo. Their attitudes, attributes, proportions, and colors are dictated by religious texts referring to the thousands of images that evolved in the course of the long history of Buddhism in India before and after its introduction into Tibet. In practice, artists resort to drawings reporting the iconographic and iconometric indications of the figures commissioned to them and related to their patrons’ teaching traditions, to other images of the same subject, and, since the 20th century, even to pictures (cf. Figures 4 and 8).
Figures generally sit or stand in different postures on stylized Indian lotuses, sometimes on mythical or real animals, or else thrones or simply cushions; and wrathful deities are often represented in militant postures, treading upon enemies of the Dharma upon a solar disc supported by a lotus, peaceful deities being generally placed on a lunar disc. In traditional iconography, Buddhas and other Buddhist figures may be portrayed with their legs in different sitting postures (Skt. āsana) and displaying various gestures (Skt. mudrā) with a number of variants, such as the meditation one, with the palms of the hands opened, turned upwards, and lying one above the other, the thumbs touching each other. Gestures may represent important historical moments in the Buddha’s life: reaching toward the Earth, or touching it with the right hand over his right leg to call it to witness the moment of his Enlightenment, meaning the establishment of the Dharma on it; or the setting into motion of the Wheel of the Dharma (Skt. dharmacakra, pron. “dharmachakra”), with both hands raised at the height of the chest, the right turned outwards and the left turned inwards with the forefingers and thumbs touching each other, symbolizing the first sermon delivered by the Buddha after reaching Enlightenment.
Other common gestures are the following: the exposition of the Dharma, or reasoning, with the palm of the right hand turned outwards in a vertical position, the thumb and forefinger touching each other; “embracing Wisdom,” with the wrists crossed at the height of the chest and the backs of the hands turned outwards, the index and little fingers sometimes stretched out, and the other fingers bent inwards; offering, with the palms joined at the height of the chest; exorcism, with the index and little fingers stretched out, the thumb touching the middle and ring fingers; warning or threatening, with the fist clenched and the forefinger stretched out.
The Buddha’s garments vary from the robes worn by Indian ascetics or by the monks of his mendicant order, sometimes made of patches stitched together, to the princely dress of the aristocratic class he belonged to according to his hagiography; in the latter iconography he may wear jewels as well as a crown. Other Buddhas, coexisting in space or having lived in previous eras, are generally identifiable thanks to their gestures, postures, and colors.
Figures may also be identified thanks to their specific attributes: the thunderbolt (Tib. rdo-rje, Skt. vajra), a symbol of adamantine strength and purity attributed to Indo-European godly kings from the Indian Indra to the Latin Jupiter; the vase holding the nectar of immortality, an attribute of the Buddha Amitāyus (Figure 3) used also for ritual purposes; the jewel, a symbol for spiritual wealth, sometimes tripled to symbolize the Buddha, the Dharma, and the monastic community; the disk, originally a weapon used in India until the 19th century, an emblem of the power of the Dharma; and the bell, which in esoteric Buddhism became a symbol for transcendent wisdom. In some Indian tantras whose teaching and iconography were adopted in Tibet, the ritual bell came to represent the female coefficient complementary to the vajra, conceived both as the male coefficient and the cognitive method aimed at Enlightenment, which may be reached also through ritual sexual union (Figure 6).
Portraits of Indian and Tibetan masters may be caricatured or naturalistic, but they are often simply idealized. They may be represented as part of lineages in relation to the transmission of specific teachings or else in assemblies known as “tsòkshing” (Tib. tshogs-zhing), namely “Field of Accumulation” (of merits), meant to represent the entirety of a teaching transmission. Since the early 20th century pictures have occasionally been used for important portraits, as in the case of the 14th Dalai Lama, for the palace built especially for him in the Norbù Lingka park near Lhasa between 1954 and 1956, and in the later 20th-century portrait painted in the upper chapel of the monastery of Sàmye by the same eastern Tibetan painter, Amdò Jampà, with an inscription describing the Dalai Lama with the title of ris-med, namely “non-sectarian” (Figures 4 and 8).12
The variegated complexity of the vast Buddhist pantheon that Tibetans inherited from India is illustrated well in the monastery of Gyantsé by the one hundred thousand images found in the chapels and temples of its Great Stupa, illustrating ever more complex iconographic cycles as one proceeds from the lower to the upper stories, housing the tantric manifestations of Buddha rank, whereas the chapels on the fourth storey house the portraits of the most important masters of the various schools of Buddhism in India and Tibet. The Indian connection in the same monastery is so strong that the chief image in the nearby main monastic building was modelled after the most famous statue of the Buddha housed in the holiest Buddhist temple in India, the Mahābodhi, after which its 15th-century Tibetan copy was named (Figure 5).13
Materials and Techniques
The materials used in Tibetan sculpture are clay and metal, generally brass or copper, hardly ever bronze, and sometimes stone and wood.15 In clay sculpture, loaves of clay mixed with water are modeled to shape the various elements of the image on a wooden structure surrounded by cloth and paper mixed with animal glue, to which flour may be added. In the case of large clay statues, faggots may surround the wooden structure (Figure 7).
Metal sculpture techniques include casting from permanent molds, lost-wax casting, traditionally from non-permanent molds—a technique of Indian origin commonly used by Newar sculptors for Tibetan patrons to this day (Figure 8)—and repoussé, which is also adopted to produce large size images and religious symbols used also in architecture (Figure 9).16
Whatever the material and technique, metal images and ritual objects are chased, and then the copper ones are generally fire-gilded by the mercury gilding process before being polished.17 Semiprecious stones may be set in any metal image or ritual object. Faces are usually cold-gilded, and the hair of peaceful figures is traditionally painted with azurite or ultramarine blue pigments, while that of wrathful figures, along with their moustache and beard, is painted with minium.
Painters, who have the advantage of drawing figures on the same surfaces upon which they will work, prepare the dry plaster surface of a wall with kaolin, or else the fine cotton, seldom silk, surface of their thang-ka with a solution of kaolin, animal glue, and water. Then they trace, traditionally with charcoal, sometimes a lead pencil, the iconometric grids of lines upon which they will draw their figures, starting from the main one. In the preparation of thang-kas, the drawing may be obtained from a woodcut or else with the dusting technique, which is used especially for wall painting. After tracing the drawing, the painter traditionally applies a tempera obtained from pigments mixed with water and animal glue, usually starting from azurite blue and malachite green, other traditional pigments being cinnabar, minium, orpiment, realgar, ochre, gypsum, carbon black, and gold powder. Synthetic colors, notably ultramarine and emerald green, have been used in geo-cultural Tibet since the 19th century, especially in wall painting, which requires large amounts of color (Figure 10).18
The use of tempera, both on portable painted scrolls (thang-ka) and on wall paintings, where the “pastiglia” technique may be used, accounts for their frequently poor state of conservation: scrolls may be rolled up and unrolled according to need; wall paintings are exposed to seepage in an architecture in which roofs are flat. The disadvantages of the tempera technique does not seem to worry Tibetans, who like all other Buddhists believe that the commission of new religious images is useful to accumulate merits in view of a better birth. Although the restoration of religious images and buildings is known in the Tibetan world, a Buddhist canonical text such as the Kriyāsamgraha prescribes to throw images beyond repair into water, to burn them or to melt them down.19 Indeed, in a Buddhist perspective, such images are imperfect, while art has an ephemeral nature. Restoration and conservation—in the modern, technical, and lay sense given to those terms in Western culture—represent a relatively recent phenomenon in Europe itself, where ancient murals in religious buildings were painted over or even destroyed in the course of renovation work until the 19th century. In the traditional Tibetan Buddhist world, commissioning new wall paintings to be painted over old ones has been as acceptable as it was in the traditional Italian Catholic one, in order to acquire merit to their patron.20
Màndalas may be fashioned with various materials and techniques: tempera on cloth, on wall, seldom on wood; silk tapestry, following the Chinese tradition of kesi; xylography; cast or repoussé metal; and colored sand, the latter being used by specialized monks following a tradition of Indian origin recorded from at least the 8th century.21 Sand màndalas are destroyed after a ritual ceremony corresponding to a phase of “reabsorption” following that of “production,” corresponding to meditation, thus underlining the transience of mental constructions and of their material expressions, which ultimately have a relative value and to which a Buddhist ought not to be attached, “grasping” and “being grasped” being precisely what the Buddha taught to break away from.
Tibetan religious buildings may be divided into three categories: temples; monasteries; and monuments, including cairns devoted to local deities, prayer walls bearing slabs engraved with religious invocations, and stupas, the earliest aniconic symbol of the Buddha, originally representing the urn housing his remains.22
Temples, monasteries, and even stupas may be excavated in the rock, but are generally built with materials, techniques, and structures varying from region to region, depending largely on rainfall and the availability of wood. Plans are characterized by rectangular shapes: they may be square, oblong, or cruciform; curving walls are rare, and the arch is unknown. Materials include dressed stone, sun-dried mud bricks, rammed earth, squared and carved wood, as well as gilded copper and, very seldom, enameled clay for tiles. Technical devices are innumerable and include earthquake-proof contrivances, such as the insertion of wooden “chain” bonds along the length of the masonry.
Stupas and temples are viewed as receptacles or supports (Tib. rten) of the Buddha’s Spirit, and monasteries in particular are sacred, for they shelter the Three Jewels taken as refuge by devotees: the Buddha’s Body, as represented by their religious images; the Buddha’s Speech, namely the Dharma as represented by the scriptures preserved in their libraries; and their monastic community, ensuring the transmission of the Buddhist tradition.23 That is why temples and monasteries—just like stupas and images—are the object of the fundamental Buddhist practice of circumambulation.
Tibetan literature affords several technical texts on arts and crafts, but none comparable to Chinese or Western treatises on architecture: the rules fixing the proportions of images and stupas do not extend to temples and monasteries, and Tibetan architects just follow traditional practices transmitted from master to pupil. Although Tibetan authors do not deal extensively and systematically with architecture, they afford precise rules concerning the choice of the construction site: the erection of an important religious building is always preceded by a close scrutiny of the territory according to the rules established by geomancy, which Tibetan historical sources declare to have been introduced into Tibet by a Chinese princess during the first half of the 7th century.
According to a Tibetan text, the ideal site should have the following requisites: a high mountain at the back; several hills, the confluence of two rivers flowing from the sides, and grassy land with trees at the front; a valley resembling crossed hands below; and an elevation looking like a heap of grains in the middle.24 Traditionally, Tibetans have regarded their land as the navel of the earth and, likely because of its high seismicity, conceived it as a restless she-demon that had to be tied up by the erection of temples at suitable points of her body before introducing Buddhism during the first half of the 7th century. Thus the Jokhàng, the most venerated temple in Tibet, was built on a pond corresponding to her heart after it was filled up with earth and stones.
Before construction starts, the local deities dwelling in the soil ought to be conjured up, propitiated with offerings, and bound by means of appropriate rituals. Then the plan of the building is drawn on the ground with a grid of lines, and the actual construction may start on the auspicious day chosen for its foundation. Repositories holding sacred invocations (Tib. gzungs-gzhug) are placed under the corners and below or above the pillars at the time of construction. Temples and stupas—just like religious images—acquire their sacredness only after being filled with religious invocations such as mantras written on paper and with precious substances, and after being consecrated by means of an appropriate rab-gnas ceremony (see “Art” section). The orientation of monasteries varies, the entrance of the main temple at Sàmye facing east, according to the Indian tradition, that of the Jokhàng in Lhasa west, looking towards Nepal, and those of the main monastic building and of the Great Stupa at Gyantsé south, towards the holy land of India, as in China. The east-west axis predominates in the religious buildings of the imperial period, whereas the north-south axis is common from the 15th century onwards. The terms “right” and “left” in the descriptions of temples in Tibetan texts correspond to the point of view of the main image looking towards the main entrance and facing the devotee: then the Tibetan “right” corresponds to the beholder’s left and the Tibetan “left” to her/his right.
Astrology plays an important role in the construction of a religious building as well as in the making of an important image, as witnessed by historical sources; for instance, in the cases of the Jokhàng in Lhasa and of the Mahābodhi statue in the monastery of Gyantsé, both built in twelve months according to historical sources, and of the Great Stupa, completed in twelve years in the latter monastic compound, the starting and ending days of construction coinciding with auspicious astral conjunctions, which are also chosen for the rab-gnas ritual consecration of buildings.
The depth of foundations is generally regarded as irrelevant, since the solidity of the building is traditionally insured by the thickness of its walls and sometimes, on sloping grounds, by buttresses. The masonry of important buildings is often made up of layers of dressed stone alternating with layers of gravel mixed with mortar. Walls, especially when made of mud bricks or rammed earth, may be covered with a layer of plaster of varying thickness, which must be regularly renewed. The outer walls, often tapering upwards, are normally load bearing and support terraced roofs. Their massive look is emphasized by the rarity of windows, often surrounded by a painted decoration having a trapezoidal shape, longer at the bottom than at the top, somehow echoing the inclination of the walls. Parts of the upper stories in later buildings may be framed with a thin paneling of wood, sometimes in conjunction with projecting balconies.
The joists of the floors and roof may be either plain trunks or timbers squared with an adze; they rest on beams supported by vertical wooden columns via brackets. Floors are covered with twigs and beaten earth or with wooden planking. Access from one story to another is provided by ladders or very steep stairs. Terraces are obtained by ramming earth on a layer of gravel; in spite of the draining system, this kind of covering requires regular renewal. Purely ornamental sloping roofs at the top are called “gyapìp” (Tib. rgya-phibs, literally “Chinese roof”; see for example Figure 1); originally made in stone to shelter stone pillars during the imperial period, by the 12th century they had made their appearance above the most sacred temples in the building, with coverings made first of enameled tiles and then of gilded repoussé copper sheets. In the Himalayan areas, with higher rainfall, buildings are protected by a pitched roof supported by a wooden framework.25
Early Tibetan Buddhist architecture displays Indian and Central Asian features that are detectable respectively in two of its earliest specimens at Lhasa, one built on a square plan, the other on a rectangular plan: the Jokhàng and the Ramoché.26 The most primitive Buddhist chapel in Tibet generally consists of a single square chamber—with or without a vestibule—whose roof is supported by one or four interior columns; sometimes the rear wall houses a niche for the main statue, which may or may not be surrounded by an ambulatory. The second diffusion of Buddhism, starting from the end of the 10th century, caused an important building activity that lasted for over three hundred years. The new temples and monasteries, such as those at Tabo and Tholing, in West Tibet, and Alchi, in Ladàk, continued to be square, rectangular, and even cruciform, and were erected on flat ground; but from the 13th century onwards, after conflicting interests among competing religious orders brought about wars, monasteries were often conceived as fortresses, sometimes surrounded by walls with turrets, as in the monasteries of Sàkya and Gyantsé.
In the course of time, some monasteries grew into complex socio-economic institutions supporting hundreds—sometimes thousands—of inmates, as had been the case for the late Buddhist monastic universities of India. The proportions of temples increased with the addition of a central assembly hall corresponding to the Indian inner courtyard still found in Buddhist Newar architecture, side chapels, a porch in front of the entrance, a courtyard surrounded by one or two orders of arcades in front of the porch, and upper stories covered with terraces topped by lanterns giving light to the assembly hall below and by pavilions covered with Chinese-style roofs. A monastic building may reach several stories in height, including a library and the abbot’s apartment with its own chapel and meeting hall, though in the largest monasteries, the abbot generally resides—sometimes with his family—in a separate mansion (Tib. bla-brang). A few large monasteries are endowed with a special isolated rectangular tower with walls tapering upwards used solely for the purpose of unfolding and displaying huge two-dimensional patchwork thang-ka images made of various types of cloth stitched together.27
Important monasteries progressively abandoned the central plan on a flat surface, whether symbolically ordered as at Sàmye or conceived as a fortress as at Sàkya. They started to be conceived more and more as fortified residences, and their architecture shifted towards a hierarchization of buildings in relation to the number of stories or to their situation on the side or top of a hill.28 The façades of later buildings—with their play of light and shadow caused by the vertical offsets of the walls following the shape of the elevations upon which they rise—may be related to Tibetan military architecture and to the wars characterizing Tibetan history after monastic orders started vying for supremacy. The visual effectiveness of several monastic buildings in Tibet derives less from the contrast between the simplicity of their massive outer shapes and the sophistication of their inner decorative wealth than from their integration with the surrounding landscape: in spite of their apparently random disposition, monasteries afford an overall impression of harmony because their lines often follow the unevenness of the sites upon which they rise.
The uniformity of walls may be broken by small windows, verandas, porches, and galleries; the tops of buildings are terraced, and the flatness of roofs is emphasized by means of a border formed of tamarisk brushwood (Tib. spen-pad) cut across evenly, compacted tightly, painted in a brownish red color and placed just below the terraced roof of a building or else crowning the parapet of its terrace. This horizontal component may represent a visual legacy of the firewood branches and fodder piled around the edges of the flat roofs of traditional Tibetan farmhouses. Where branches are absent, they are replaced with a painted band or even a border of enameled clay in a color contrasting with that of the wall below. The horizontality of a building may be emphasized by slabs protecting the top of the parapet walls.
Inner architecture is characterized by pillars—generally square in section, fluted, slightly tapering upwards, and swelling at the top—sometimes carved and supporting a system of capitals, long brackets—made up of a short lower element and of a long upper one—beams, trabeations, joists, and other wooden structures richly carved with stylized designs—hanging foliage, flower patterns, swirling clouds, stylized lions, sometimes human or celestial figures—generally painted in bright colors. Inner walls are painted with cycles of images including various classes of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, gods, goddesses, heavenly attendants, as well as historical figures. The inner space is organized around large statues, sometimes stupas, facing the viewer, with appropriate carved and painted wooden furnishings: altars, shelves, side-tables, thrones, benches with tables of various sizes placed at different heights in accordance to a hierarchical order. The outer walls may be whitewashed or—in the case of particularly important buildings—painted in red or yellow, the two sacred colors of Buddhism; those of the monasteries belonging to the religious order of Sàkya are painted in bluish grey, with white and red vertical stripes, or else in white, with red and blue stripes.
Both the inner architecture of the various religious buildings and their arrangement within a monastic compound reflect the activity for which they are meant: liturgy, meditation, and study, other buildings being used as living quarters and related facilities. Individual study takes place inside the monks’ dwellings or on the terraced roofs. Except for ritual dances and special rituals, all religious activity takes place inside the assembly hall, where monks perform the liturgy sitting in rows facing each other, parallel to the axis running from the entrance to the main shrine. Other collective activities, such as lectures, debates, and examinations, are generally carried out in the open, often in a courtyard in front of the main assembly hall. Such open spaces are sometimes called after the specific activities for which they are designed: thus the “chöra” (Tib. chos-rwa, literally “Dharma enclosure”) is a yard used for religious debates, surrounded by a wall and often planted with trees, whereas the “chamra” (Tib. ’cham-rwa, literally “ritual dance enclosure”) is meant for Buddhist ceremonial dances.
The meanings of the terms, sometimes representing the Tibetan translation of Sanskrit ones, recurring more often to designate a monastery and its parts are significant:
“ling” (Tib. gling, literally “continent,” “island”), monastic compound, monastery;
“chöde” (Tib. chos-sde), Dharma compound, monastery;
“chökhor” (Tib. chos-’khor), Dharma enclave, monastery;
“gönpà” (Tib. dgon-pa) monastery, hermitage;
“tsùklakhang” (Tib. gtsug-lag-khang, literally “abode of sciences”), chief monastic building;
“lhakhang” (Tib. lha-khang, literally “divine abode”), shrine, chapel or temple;
“tsangkhang” (Tib. gtsang-khang, literally “pure abode”),29 main shrine, chapel or temple;
“kòrlam” (Tib. skor-lam, literally “circumambulation path”), outer or inner ambulatory;
“dukhàng” (Tib.’du-khang), meeting hall;
“tsokkhang” (Tib. tshogs-khang), assembly hall;
“tsokchen” (Tib. tshogs-chen), main meeting hall;
“khyam” (Tib. khyams), courtyard, sometimes surrounded by a colonnade, or assemby hall;
“gönkhàng” (Tib. mgon-khang, literally “abode of the lords”), temple or chapel housing the wrathful deities protecting the monastery;
“wutsé” (Tib. dbu-rtse, literally “top of the head”), topmost part of a monastic building, corresponding sometimes to a squat multistorey tower rising above the “tsangkhang” and including other temples with their ambulatories, and sometimes to the apartments of a religious master;
“shelyèkhang” (Tib. gzhal-yas-khang, literally “inestimable abode,” in the sense of “celestial palace” or “divine mansion,” Skt. vimāna), main temple at the top of the “wutsé,” sometimes decorated with cycles of painted màndalas.
In spite of the fact that the “tsùklakhang” is often surrounded by ancillary buildings generally added haphazardly in the course of time, such as subsidiary temples with their own assembly hall, storerooms, a huge kitchen and living quarters for monks (either individual dwellings or colleges), Buddhist architecture in Tibet is not a puzzle of heterogeneous elements: it is the expression of the religious needs of a great civilization that—far from disappearing—has survived even outside geo-cultural Tibet: monasteries, temples, and stupas in Tibetan style continue to be built in India, Bhutan, Nepal, China, Mongolia, Europe, the United States, and other countries (see background of Figure 9).
Architectural elements may symbolize specific Buddhist concepts. Important monasteries include temples with a threefold entrance symbolizing the three ways leading to liberation: the realization of the unsubstantiality of things; the renunciation of differentiating among various concepts; and the absence of speculation. Symbolism is more apparent in the emblems decorating religious buildings, including roof ornaments such as the Wheel of the Buddhist Dharma (cf. foreground of Figure 9) flanked by two deer—a ubiquitous symbol of the earliest “turning of the wheel,” namely the first teaching delivered by the Buddha in the “deer park” at Sarnāth—cylindrical victory-banners and stupa-like finials in gilded copper—all of Indian origin—as well as tridents with bunches of yak-hair borrowed from the Mongolian world.
Although the plans of Sàmye (see Figure 1) and few religious buildings in Tibet might be generically interpreted as màndalas, any temple, irrespective of its shape, may be regarded as the màndala of the deity it houses, as witnessed by several wall inscriptions in the Great Stupa of Gyantsé calling “màndala” (Tib. dkyil-’khor) each of the rectangular chapels in which they are written: a statue portraying the main deity, even if placed not at the center of the chapel, but in an eccentric position against a wall, represents indeed the ideal center (dkyil) of a sacred space in which the assembly of attendant figures, including those painted on the walls, represent the surrounding divine retinue (’khor).
Of the Buddhist architectural structures that Tibetans imported from India, the richest in symbolic elements is the stupa (Tib. mchod-rten, literally “support [for] worship”). The essential elements making up a stupa are: the throne, corresponding to its basis; four steps; the “vase” (Tib. bum-pa), corresponding to the urn containing the Buddha’s remains and represented by a circular structure resting on a base; a turret-like pavilion; a spire made up of an odd number of discs (from five to thirteen or more); and an umbrella, generally topped by a finial. According to canonical literature, each of those elements symbolizes important Buddhist concepts.30 Thus the first step corresponds to the Four Awarenesses, the second to the Four Perfect Renunciations, the third to the Four Miraculous Powers, and the fourth to the Five Faculties. The base supporting the vase symbolizes the Five Powers, the vase itself the seven Concomitances of Awakening or Enlightenment, and the pavilion the Eightfold Path. Each of the first ten discs making up the spire corresponds to a different mystical power, whereas the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth symbolize the three supports of the Buddhas’ particular awareness.31 The umbrella represents the Buddha’s protection and compassion. The same symbolism extends to other architectural and decorative elements, from the stupa’s central pole to its finial.
Several sets of stupas are known in the Buddhist tradition in Tibet: the three stupas—sometimes painted respectively in red, white, and blue—representing a triad of particularly important Bodhisattvas (Avalokiteśvara, flanked by Mañjuśrī and Vajrapāi); the seven stupas symbolizing the Buddhas of the past; and the eight stupas commemorating the great events and miracles in the life of the historical Buddha. The most complex type of stupa belongs to the last set and is called “victorious” with reference to the Buddha’s deeds, though in Tibetan literature it is generally known as “tashigomàng chöten” (Tib. bkra-shis sgo-mang mchod-rten), namely “stupa [with] many doors [of] auspiciousness” from the many doors giving access to the chapels and temples opening on the different terraced steps of the building.
The most extraordinary stupa of the “tashigomàng” type in Tibet and in the rest of the Buddhist world is the Great Stupa of Gyantsé (see Figure 2). The doors on its four terraced steps give access to seventy-five chapels and temples in which Buddhist teachings, including the esoteric cycles regarded as particularly important in 15th-century Tibet, are represented symbolically in the cycles of paintings and statues placed in a sequence whose doctrinal complexity increases as the faithful ascend towards the top of the building. The one hundred thousand images actually painted and modeled in the stupa represent the most important and complete structural representation of the Buddhist pantheon preserved to this day. Climbing from one terraced step to another after performing the ritual circumambulation and entering each chapel in the building, the devotee may reach the statue of the primordial Buddha Vajradhara at the top of its central axis, the “Life Pillar” (Tib. srog-shing) symbolizing the ten Knowledges and inserted also into large-size images such as the Mahābodhi (see Figure 5) in the main temple of Gyantsé. The Great Stupa of Gyantsé is called “City of the Great Liberation” (Tib. thar-pa chen-po’i grong-khyer)32 in the inscriptions on and descriptions of the walls of the vestibules giving access to the stairs and ladders connecting its various levels; it is indeed a visual theological summa that ought to be understood by a learned devotee who, knowing the symbolic meanings of its iconographic programs and of its architecture, may aspire to the boon of liberation from further rebirths.
Even though Tibetan religious art may appear sometimes unnecessarily complicated, and even stiff and formal, it occupies a fundamental role in the history of civilizations, having inherited and preserved most of the Buddhist iconographic traditions of India thanks to the competence of its patrons and artists who, in spite of living in remote areas, have assimilated and preserved the teachings of one of the most sophisticated belief systems in the world: Buddhism.
Review of the Literature
The development of studies in Tibetan art and architecture is relatively recent. Research in the fields of Tibetan history, religion and art has made considerable progress since the 1930s thanks to Giuseppe Tucci, one of the fathers of modern tibetology and author of Indo-Tibetica and Tibetan Painted Scrolls. One of methodological foundations of Tucci’s work was that any cultural phenomenon ought to be viewed historically, in its various political, social, religious, literary and artistic components. Tucci was aware of the fact that an isolated image is “almost always an abstraction” and loses much of its symbolic value if it is analyzed individually, out of its religious context and specific iconographic setting. There is no romance in Tucci’s work when compared with the picturesque and exotic visions still prompted by Western and even Eastern representations of old and new age Orientalism, for which, also in art historical terms, Tibet continues to be often perceived as a kind of Shangrila.33
In spite of the fact that Tucci laid the foundations of modern tibetology in the field of art history, his methodology—based on the study of original Tibetan and Sanskrit texts—has often been either forgotten or ignored by several “specialists” in the field. Despite the explosion of publications, often catalogues, related to Buddhist art in the last decades, much literature on the subject has been derivative and concerned primarily with issues of iconography and style. That is largely due to the fact that several researchers in Tibetan art are still unable to read inscriptions and historical or hagiographic sources not available in translation, which contain detailed information, including dates and names, in relation to religious images and buildings, and even to artists. Dating in the absence of written or circumstantial evidence often represents a problem, not only because of the impossibility of placing individual paintings and sculptures within a well-documented historical background and a reliable chronological frame, but also because of the artists’ fidelity to the same iconographic models, traditional iconometric rules and sometimes even earlier styles.
Furthermore, relatively few authors have endeavored to study Tibetan Buddhist art from the very perspective of the culture from which it originates, which should provide the appropriate starting point: the analysis of a religious image ought to be related to the specific cultural and social environment of the people who have commissioned and produced it. Finally, limited attention has been paid to native classifications of style, Western authors having often invented their own terminology, some presuming that each Tibetan religious school has adopted its own and only style. As a result, despite the publication of The Place of Provenance. Regional Styles in Tibetan Painting, one of David Jackson’s excellent monographs devoted to Tibetan art, what Gene Smith wrote almost half a century ago still holds partly true: “The pontifications of eminent museologists and art historians regarding the characteristics and dates of the various styles and schools represent nothing but uninformed guesses.”34
Indeed, since the publication of Indo-Tibetica and Tibetan Painted Scrolls—the outcome of less than a score of years’ work by a single scholar—comparatively few important books on the history of Tibetan art and architecture have appeared. Leaving aside exhibition and museum catalogues as well as conference proceedings, which are inevitably fragmentary, the following must be mentioned in their order of appearance: Heather Karmay Stoddard’s Early Sino-Tibetan Art Loden Sherap Dagyab’s Tibetan Religious Art, Paola Mortari Vergara and Gilles Béguin’s Dimore umane, santuari divini. Origini, sviluppo e diffusione dell’architettura tibetana/Demeures des hommes, sanctuaires des dieux. Sources, développement et rayonnement de l’architecture tibétaine, Roberto Vitali’s Early Temples of Central Tibet, Lokesh Chandra’s Buddhist Iconography, based on Tibetan iconographic collections, Franco Ricca and Erberto Lo Bue’s The Great Stupa of Gyantse. A Complete Tibetan Pantheon of the Fifteenth Century, Anne Chayet’s Art et Archéologie du Tibet, including information on Tibetan architecture, David Jackson’s A History of Tibetan Painting: The Great Tibetan Painters and Their Traditions, the outcome of years of original research in primary sources and a true complement to Tibetan Painted Scrolls, On the Path to Void. Buddhist Art of the Tibetan Realm, edited by Pratapaditya Pal and containing fourteen articles divided in the three sections of “Architectural Monuments,” “Sculpture” and “Painting and Fabric Images,” Deborah Klimburg-Salter’s Tabo, a Lamp for the Kingdom. Early Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Art in the Western Himalaya, with contributions by Christian Luczanits, Luciano Petech, Ernst Steinkeller and Erna Wandl, Amy Heller’s Tibetan Art—Tracing the Development of Spiritual Ideals and Art in Tibet 600-2000 AD, Christian Luczanits’s Buddhist Sculpture in Clay. Early Western Himalayan Art, late 10th to early 13th centuries, and Tibet. Klöster öffnen ihre Schatzkammern, an exhibition catalogue edited by Jeong-Hee Lee-Kalisch and including important loans from Tibet. Most of them are monographs and only few may be regarded as histories of Tibetan art.35
Alexander, André. The Temples of Lhasa: Tibetan Buddhist Architecture from the 7th to the 21st Centuries. Chicago: Serindia, 2006.Find this resource:
Beer, Robert. The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs. Boston: Shambala, 1999.Find this resource:
Béguin, Gilles. Les peintures du bouddhisme tibétain. Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1995.Find this resource:
Bentor, Yael. Consecration of Images and Stupas in Indo-Tibetan Tantric Buddhism. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1996.Find this resource:
Brauen, Martin. The Mandala, Sacred Circle in Tibetan Buddhism. London: Serindia Publications, 1997.Find this resource:
Brauen, Martin (ed.). The Dalai Lamas. A Visual History. Zürich, Switzerland: Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zürich, in association with Serindia Publications, 2005.Find this resource:
Debreczeny, Karl, Ian Alsop, David Jackson, and Irmgard Mengele. The Black Hat Eccentric: Artistic Visions of the Tenth Karmapa. New York: Rubin Museum of Art, 2012.Find this resource:
Essen, Gerd-Wolfgang, and Tsering Tashi Thingo. Die Götter des Himalaya. I. Systematischer Bestandskatalog. Munich: Prestel, 1989.Find this resource:
Essen, Gerd-Wolfgang, and Tsering Tashi Thingo. Die Götter des Himalaya. II. Die Götter des Himalaya: Tafelband. Munich: Prestel, 1989.Find this resource:
Gyatsho, Thubten Legshay. Gateway to the Temple: Manual of Tibetan Monastic Customs, Art, Building, and Celebrations. Kathmandu: Ratna Pustak Bhandar, 1979.Find this resource:
Jackson, David. Patron and Painter: Situ Panchen and the Revival of the Encampment Style. New York: Rubin Museum of Art, 2009.Find this resource:
Jackson, David. The Nepalese Legacy in Tibetan Painting. New York: Rubin Museum of Art, 2010.Find this resource:
Jackson, David, and Christian Luczanits. Mirror of the Buddha: Early Portraits from Tibet. New York: Rubin Museum of Art, 2011.Find this resource:
Jackson, David. The Place of Provenance: Regional Styles in Tibetan Painting. New York: Rubin Museum of Art, 2012.Find this resource:
Jackson, David, and Janice A. Jackson. Tibetan Thangka Painting: Methods & Materials. London: Serindia, 1984Find this resource:
Lo Bue, Erberto. “The Dharmamaṇḍala-Sūtra by Buddhaguhya.” In Orientalia Iosephi Tucci Memoriae Dicata. Edited by Gherardo Gnoli and Lionello Lanciotti, 787–818. Rome: IsMEO, 1987.Find this resource:
Lo Bue, Erberto. Tesori del Tibet. Bod-kyi dngos-rdzas rin-chen-gyi ’grem-ston. Oggetti d’arte dei Monasteri di Lhasa. Milan: La Rinascente, 1994.Find this resource:
Lo Bue, Erberto, ed. Contributions to the History of Tibetan Art. Special issue, The Tibet Journal 27, no. 3–4 (Autumn–Winter 2002).Find this resource:
Lo Bue, Erberto. “Tibetan Aesthetics versus Western Aesthetics in the Appreciation of Religious Art.” In Images of Tibet in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Vol. 2. Edited by Monica Esposito, 687–704. Paris: École française d’Extrême-Orient, 2008.Find this resource:
Lo Bue, Erberto. “The Condition of Tibetan Monasteries in the 1930s and ’40s as Recorded by Giuseppe Tucci.” Marg: A Magazine of the Arts 67, no. 3 (2016): 66–75;Find this resource:
Lo Bue, Erberto. “Giuseppe Tucci’s Remarks on the State of Preservation of Tibetan Monuments in the 1930s and 1940s.” October 2015.
Lo Bue, Erberto, and Franco Ricca. Gyantse Revisited. Firenze: Le Lettere, 1990.Find this resource:
Meyer, Fernand. “The Potala Palace of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa.” Orientations 17, no. 7 (1987): 14–32.Find this resource:
Oddy, William, and Wladimir Zwalf. Aspects of Tibetan Metallurgy. British Museum Occasional Papers 15 (London: British Museum Press, 1981).Find this resource:
Schroeder, Ulrich von. Indo-Tibetan Bronzes. Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications, 1981.Find this resource:
Schroeder, Ulrich von. Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet. Vol. 1. India and Nepal. Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications, 2001.Find this resource:
Schroeder, Ulrich von. Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet. Vol. 2. Tibet and China. Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications, 2001.Find this resource:
Singer, Jane Casey, and Philip Denwood, eds. Tibetan Art: Towards a Definition of Style. London: Laurence King, 1997.Find this resource:
(1.) On the activity of Newar artists, with particular reference to metal sculptors, for Tibetan patrons up to the present, see Erberto Lo Bue, “The Newar Artists of the Nepal Valley: An historical account of their activities in neighbouring areas with particular reference to Tibet,” Oriental Art 31, no. 3 (1985): 262–277; Lo Bue, “The Artists of the Nepal Valley,” Oriental Art 31, no. 4 (1985–1986): 409–420; Lo Bue, “Cultural Exchange and Social Interaction between Tibetans and Newars from the Seventh to the Twentieth Century,” International Folklore Review 6 (1988): 86–114; Lo Bue, “Newar Sculptors and Tibetan Patrons in the 20th Century,” ed. Erberto Lo Bue, special issue, The Tibet Journal 3/4 (Autumn–Winter 2002): 121–170; and Lo Bue, “Newar Artistic Influence in Tibet and China between the 7th and the 15th Century,” in Tibetan Art Between Past and Present: Studies Dedicated to Luciano Petech. Rivista di Studi Orientali, ed. Elena de Rossi Filibeck (Pisa, Italy: Fabrizio Serra, 2012): 25–62.
(2.) On the role played by Newars in Tibetan painting, see David Jackson, The Nepalese Legacy in Tibetan Painting (New York: Rubin Museum of Art, 2010).
(3.) Fernand Meyer, “The Potala Palace of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa,” Orientations 17, no. 7 (1987): 17. For the presence of Chinese and Mongolian artists in 14th-century Tibet, see Giuseppe Tucci, Indo-Tibetica, IV: Gyantse ed i suoi monasteri. Part I. Descrizione generale dei tempi (Rome: Reale Accademia d’Italia, 1941), 25–26.
(4.) On this issue, see Erberto Lo Bue, “Tibetan Aesthetics versus Western Aesthetics in the Appreciation of Religious Art.” in Images of Tibet in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Vol. 2, ed. Monica Esposito (Paris: École française d’Extrême-Orient, 2008), 687–704.
(5.) Cf. Anne Chayet, Art et Archéologie du Tibet (Paris: Picard, 1994), 88; Giuseppe Tucci, Tibet (Geneva: Nagel, 1975), 185; and David Snellgrove and Hugh Richardson, A Cultural History of Tibet (Boulder: Shambhala, 1995), 54. The treatment of the locks in the mane of this non-Buddhist figure is reminiscent of the hair of statues of Licchavi rulers portrayed in the guise of Garu∂a in front of Vaishnava temples in the Nepal Valley. See for example, Pratapaditya Pal, The Arts of Nepal, Vol. 1, Sculpture (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1974), pl. 98.
(6.) See for example, Erberto Lo Bue, “Sculptural Styles According to Pema Karpo,” in Tibetan Art: Towards a Definition of Style, eds. Jane Casey Singer and Philip Denwood (London: Laurence King, 1997), 242–253 and 302–304.
(7.) See for instance Giuseppe Tucci, Indo-Tibetica, IV: Gyantse ed i suoi monasteri, Part II: Iscrizioni: testo e traduzione. (Rome: Reale Accademia d’Italia, 1941), 8 and 136; and Tucci, Tibetan Painted Scrolls, Vol. 2 (Kyoto: Rinsen, 1980), 663, 5b for a 14th-century silver statue of the goddess Tārā, and p. 669, 55a, for a roof pinnacle raised at the top of a chapel in the monastery of Gyantsé. Some examples from the 12th century onwards are described and illustrated in Gilles Béguin, Dieux et démons de l’Himâlaya (Paris: Éditions des musées nationaux, 1977), 70–71 and 73, nos. 11, 13, 17, 18, and 19.
(8.) From the end of the 20th century, when collecting Tibetan art started to become fashionable, fine images began to be produced, notably in the Nepal Valley, to satisfy the collectors’ demand. This has created some confusion in the art market and among collectors, scholars, and museum people who have hardly any experience of fieldwork among artists working for temples and monasteries. Buddhist and Hindu statues produced in the Nepal Valley by artists using traditional iconography, materials, and techniques, sometimes on special orders, artificially aged, and sold by dishonest or incompetent dealers to unaware collectors, may be found in antiques shops, auction rooms, art galleries, and Western collections. On this issue, see Erberto Lo Bue. “In memory of Vittorio Chiaudano (1935–1996): 20th-Century Buddhist and Hindu Statues from the Nepal Valley Belonging to the Aniko Collection on Loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum,” The Tibet Journal 39, no. 2 (2014): 14–22, Figures 9–11 and notes 36, 41, 45, 46. The same applies to scrolls including mandalas painted for the tourist market, often not respecting the proper iconography and sometimes aged artificially. Cf. Yael Bentor, “Tibetan Tourist Thangkas in the Kathmandu Valley,” Annals of Tourism Research 20, no. 1 (New York: Pergamon Press Ltd, 1993): 107–113.
(9.) Aspects of dating issues are dealt with in Ingrid Kreide-Damani, Dating Tibetan Art: Essays on the Possibilities and Impossibilities of Chronology from the Lempertz Symposium, Cologne (Wiesbaden, Germany: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2003). See also Lo Bue. “In memory of Vittorio Chiaudano,” 3–35.
(10.) See for example Tucci, Indo-Tibetica, IV. Gyantse ed i suoi monasteri, Part I, 170; and Tucci, Tibetan Painted Scrolls, 663, 5b.
(11.) For the Kālacakra and Saṃvarodaya tantras, see David Jackson and Janice Jackson, Tibetan Thangka Painting: Methods & Materials (London: Serindia, 1984), 144–147; for the Buddhas and tantric tutelary deities, see Jackson, Tibetan Thangka Painting, 51; and David Snellgrove, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism: Indian Buddhists and Their Tibetan Successors, Vol. 1 (Boston: Shambhala, 1987), 189 n. 126.
(12.) Cf. Alexander Norman, “The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso,” in The Dalai Lamas. A Visual History, ed. Martin Brauen (Zürich: Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zürich, 2005), 162–171, 170–171, Figure 130. For traditional early portrait painting see David Jackson and Christian Luczanits, Mirror of the Buddha: Early Portraits from Tibet (New York: Rubin Museum of Art, 2011).
(13.) See Erberto Lo Bue, “Considerations on the Gtsug lag khang in the Dpal ’khor chos sde of Rgyal rtse,” in The Illuminating Mirror: Tibetan Studies in Honour of Per K. Sørensen on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday, eds. by Olaf Czaja and Guntram Hazod (Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2015), 287, 283–302, 596–600. That gilded copper statue, about 4 meters tall, was fashioned by the Tibetan sculptor sKyabs-pa in 1420–1421, while the two statues at his sides were made by the Newar artist Jaya Teja and his assistants; see ’Jigs-med-grags-pa. rGyal-rtse chos-rgyal-gyi rnam-par-thar-pa dad-pa’i lo-thog dngos-grub-kyi char-’bebs (Lhasa: Bod-ljongs Mi-dmangs dPe-skrun-khang, 1987), 66, 73.
(15.) Zinc is preferred to tin in copper alloys used to cast metal images. See for example Paul T. Craddock, “The copper alloys of Tibet and their background,” in Aspects of Tibetan Metallurgy: British Museum Occasional Paper, No. 15, eds. W. A. Oddy and Wladimir Zwalf (London: British Museum Press, 1981), 26–30.
(16.) Loden Sherap Dagyab, Tibetan Religious Art, Part I: Texts (Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1977), 50.
(14.) The finished statue was published by Alexander Norman. “The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso,” in The Dalai Lamas. A Visual History, ed. Martin Brauen. Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zürich (Chicago: Serindia Publications, 2005), 162–171, 166, fig. 123. For a traditional portrait of a Tibetan master by a foremost 20th-century Newar sculptor see Lo Bue. “In memory of Vittorio Chiaudano,” 7, Fig. 1.
(17.) See Erberto Lo Bue, “Mercury-gilding in Traditional Himalayan and Tibetan Sculpture,” in Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 7th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Vol. 2, eds. Helmut Krasser, Michael Torsten Much, Ernst Steinkellner, and Helmut Tauscher (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1997), 573–582.
(18.) See Jackson and Jackson, Tibetan Thangka Painting, 79–80.
(19.) Tadeusz Skorupski, ed., Kriyāsaṃgraha: Compendium of Buddhist Rituals: An abridged version (Tring, U.K.: Institute of Buddhist Studies, 2002), 172. When a religious image requires considerable restoration, a special consecration ritual called arga is performed, in which the deity abiding in it “is requested to reside temporarily in a specially prepared mirror for the duration of the restoration,” from Yael Bentor, Consecration of Images and Stupas in Indo-Tibetan Tantric Buddhism (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1996), xxi.
(20.) For the virtual absence of restoration in Tibetan monasteries, see for example Erberto Lo Bue, “The Condition of Tibetan Monasteries in the 1930s and ’40s as Recorded by Giuseppe Tucci,” in Marg: A Magazine of the Arts, 67, no. 3 (2016): 66–75; and Erberto Lo Bue, “Giuseppe Tucci’s Remarks on the State of Preservation of Tibetan Monuments in the 1930s and 1940s,” October 2015.
(21.) Cf. Erberto Lo Bue, “The Dharmamaṇḍala-Sūtra by Buddhaguhya,” in Orientalia Iosephi Tucci Memoriae Dicata, eds. Gherardo Gnoli and Lionello Lanciotti (Rome: IsMEO, 1987), 794–795: “spread coloured powders.” Buddhaguhya’s text gives a full account of the mandala, including its structure and symbolism.
(22.) This introductory section is largely drawn from Fernand Meyer and Corneille Jest’s contributions to Dimore umane, santuari divini: Origini, sviluppo e diffusione dell’architettura tibetana/Demeures des hommes, sanctuaires des dieux. Sources, développement et rayonnement de l’architecture tibétaine, eds. Gilles Béguin, Corneille Jest, Fernand Meyer, and Paola Mortari Vergara (Rome: Università di Roma—Il Bagatto, 1987), 32–68.
(23.) See for example, Meyer and Jest, “Architettura: funzioni tecniche, sociali, simboliche e religiose”/“Architecture: fonctions techniques, sociales, symboliques et religieuses,” in Dimore umane, santuari divini, 43–44, 47 n. 27, and 64, 68 n. 27.
(24.) Meyer and Jest, “Ambiente, materiali e tecniche.”/“Milieux, matériaux, et techniques,” in Dimore umane, santuari divini, 121, 133 n. 8, and 152, 166 n. 8. The section on architecture in this entry is largely drawn from that article.
(25.) See Meyer and Jest, “Ambiente, materiali e tecniche”/“Milieux, matériaux, et techniques,” in Dimore umane, santuari divini, 131 and 163.
(26.) Cf. Chayet, Art et Archéologie du Tibet, 144.
(27.) On other kinds of techniques, including embroidery, appliqué, weaving and printing, used to make Buddhist scrolls see Dagyab, Tibetan Religious Art, 24–25, Plates 26–29; 40.
(28.) See Mortari Vergara Caffarelli, Paola, “Tibet centrale dal X al XV secolo”/“Tibet central du Xème au XVème siècle,” and “Tibet occidentale (Ngari) dal sec. XV al XX”/“Tibet occidental (Ngari) du XVème au XXème siècle,” and Meyer and Jest, “Architettura: funzioni tecniche, sociali, simboliche e religiose.”/“Architecture: fonctions techniques, sociales, symboliques et religieuses,” in Dimore umane, santuari divini, 299 and 327, 344 and 361, and 32–33 and 52–53.
(29.) This term may be replaced by lte-ba, literally “navel-string,” “navel,” “center.” See ’Jigs-med-grags-pa, rGyal-rtse chos-rgyal-gyi rnam-par-thar-pa dad-pa’i lo-thog dngos-grub-kyi char-’bebs (Lhasa: Bod-ljongs Mi-dmangs dPe-skrun-khang, 1987), 82.
(30.) See for example Tucci. Indo-Tibetica, 1: Mc’od rten e ts’a ts’a nel Tibet indiano e occidentale (Rome: Reale Accademia d’Italia, 1932), 39–53; and Adrian Snodgrass, The Symbolism of the Stupa (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1991).
(31.) Tucci. Indo-Tibetica, 43.
(32.) See for example, ’Jigs-med-grags-pa, 110.
(33.) Tucci, Indo-Tibetica, I: Mc’od rten e ts’a ts’a nel Tibet (Rome: Reale Accademia d’Italia, 1932); II. Rin c’en bzan po e la rinascita del buddhismo nel Tibet intorno al mille (Rome: Reale Accademia d’Italia, 1933); III. I templi del Tibet occidentale e il loro simbolismo artistico. Part I, Spiti e Kunavar (Rome: Reale Accademia d’Italia, 1935); Part II, Tsaparang (Rome: Reale Accademia d’Italia, 1936); IV, Gyantse ed i suoi monasteri, Part I, Descrizione generale dei tempi (Rome: Reale Accademia d’Italia, 194); Part II. Iscrizioni: testo e traduzione (Rome: Reale Accademia d’Italia, 1941); Part III, Tavole (Rome: Reale Accademia d’Italia, 1941); English version (New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan, 1988–1989). For painted scrolls, see Tucci. Tibetan Painted Scrolls. An Artistic and Symbolic Illustration of 172 Tibetan Paintings Preceded by a Survey of the Historical, Artistic, Literary and Religious Development of Tibetan Culture. With an Article of P. Pelliot on a Mongol Edict, the Translation of Historical Documents and an Appendix of Prebuddhistic Ideas of Tibet, 3 vols. (Rome: La Libreria dello Stato, 1949); Reprint of vols. 1 and 2 (Kyoto: Rinsen, 1980); and see Tucci. Indo-Tibetica. I. Mc’od rten e ts’a ts’a nel Tibet (Rome: Reale Accademia d’Italia, 1932), 9.
(34.) The issue of regional styles is dealt with in David Jackson and Rob Linroth, The Place of Provenance: Regional Styles in Tibetan Painting (New York: Rubin Museum of Art, 2012); and in David Jackson, Painting Traditions of the Drigung Kagyu School (New York: Rubin Museum of Art, 2015). Cf. Gene Smith, “Introduction,” in Kongtrul’s Encyclopaedia of Indo-Tibetan Culture, ed. Lokesh Chandra (New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1970), 52.
(35.) The few important books on the history of Tibetan art and architecture include: Heather Karmay Stoddard, Early Sino-Tibetan Art (Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1975); Dagyab, Tibetan Religious Art; Paola Mortari Vergara and Gilles Béguin, eds., Dimore umane, santuari divini, 1987; Roberto Vitali, Early Temples of Central Tibet (London: Serindia, 1990); Lokesh Chandra, Buddhist Iconography (New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture and Aditya Prakashan, 1991); Franco Ricca and Erberto Lo Bue, The Great Stupa of Gyantse: A Complete Tibetan Pantheon of the Fifteenth Century (London: Serindia, 1993); Chayet, Art et Archéologie du Tibet; David Jackson, A History of Tibetan Painting: The Great Tibetan Painters and Their Traditions (Wien: Verlag der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1996); Pratapaditya Pal, ed., On the Path to Void: Buddhist Art of the Tibetan Realm (Mumbai: Marg Publications, 1996); and Marg, 47, no.4 (1996), where the following corrections ought to be made: p. 98, where the caption should read “The Buddha Maitreya, containing the relices of King Rab-brtan-kun-bzang. Circa 1442–1443. Gilded copper. Chos-rgyal-lha-khang in the main monastic building. Photograph: Charles G. Bill”; p. 127, where caption 4 should read: “The Buddha Vairochana. 1422. Gilded copper. Vajradhatu Temple in the main monastic building”; p. 138, line 40, where “east” should replace “southern”; and p. 141, where caption 14 should read: “The Buddha Maitreya, containing the relics of King Rab-brtan-kun-bzang. Circa 1442–1443. Gilded copper. Chos-rgyal-lha-khang in the main monastic building”; Deborah Klimburg-Salter, Christian Luczanits, Luciano Petech, Ernst Steinkeller, and Erna Wandl, Tabo, a Lamp for the Kingdom: Early Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Art in the Western Himalaya (Milan: Skira, 1997); Amy Heller, Tibetan Art: Tracing the Development of Spiritual Ideals and Art in Tibet 600–2000 AD (Milan, Jaca Book: 1999); Christian Luczanits, Buddhist Sculpture in Clay: Early Western Himalayan Art, Late 10th to Early 13th Centuries (Chicago: Serindia Publications, 2004); Jeong-Hee Lee-Kalisch, ed., Tibet: Klöster öffnen ihre Schatzkammern (Munich: Kulturstiftung Ruhr & Hirmer Verlag, 2006). An articulated, organic and exhaustive survey of the history of Tibetan art and architecture is still to be written, as implied by Luczanits, “Methodological Comments Regarding Recent Research on Tibetan Art,” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens 45 (2001), 141.