Articles About Tibetan Thangka Painting and Visionary Art - index:

An Introduction to Tibetan Thangka Painting

What is a Thangka?

Female Deities In Tibetan Buddhism

Green Tara and the Twenty-one Taras

The Mandala And Its Symbolism

Wrathful Deities of the Tibetan Buddhist Pantheon

The Wheel Of Life

Visionary Art, Cosmology and the Tree of Life

* * * * * * * * * * *

An Introduction to Tibetan Thangka Painting

Thangka images originated from visions of living deities which were seen by mystics deep in meditation and during their daily lives in the remotest wild places of Tibet. The tradition of art in Tibet associated with Esoteric Buddhism began around the 7th century A.D. in the form of portraiture painted on monks' outer garments, and idea introduced from India, and has been influenced by many surrounding cultures especially the Chinese silk painting of the Han Dynasty. The methods and traditions of Thangka painting have been passed from teacher to student for many centuries. There was a noticeable renaissance in both style and skill between the 13th and15th centuries A.D. with the influx of Nepalese artists into Tibet and in particular due to the work of the artist Menla Dondrub, whose style and measurements are still widely used today. There is a particularly strong influence from Indian royal portrait painting - this is clearly shown in the painting of royal dress and jewels on many of the deities in an attempt to portray their status.

In Tibet there have been many artists willing to devote their lives to the development and refinement of the techniques involved in Thangka painting, from the use of natural mineral pigments and fine gold powder to the efficient methods of preparing the canvas as well as the fine silk brocade which is used to frame the paintings. The art form has become very widespread in recent times and now includes the use of new materials and colours developed in the West.

There are three recognised paths of buddhism, which have their associated practices; these are the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana, meaning the "small", "great", and "lightning-bolt" paths respectively. Practitioners of the Vajrayana path use the painted images to help them to visualise in meditation the perfection of the physical world through association with aspects of the enlightened self, which are represented by the deities of Tantric buddhism. Although used for such religious practice, the images have seen a renewed popularity and their inherent harmony and balanced form convey a sense of meaning directly to the centre of one's being. The mandala paintings are also used in ritual settings for divination and the "Wheel of Life" painting, which is probably the oldest image in Buddhism, has been widely used as a teaching aid for Dharma students because it contains symbolism and scenes that show all of the fundamental teachings of the Buddha. The wrathful deities are important in that they represent protection for the practitioner and encourage the willingness to face all of the darkest experiences of human existence in order to develop true strength of mind and spiritual power.

by Peter "Zotec" Newman ©2002-2009

* * * * * * * * * * *