Dharmapala Thangka CentreIconography

Tibetan Iconography

Early Paintings from Central Tibet

Excerpted from Sacred Visions: Early Paintings from Central Tibet,

by Steven M. Kossak and Jane Casey Singer, with an essay by Robert Bruce-Gardner

© 1998 by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Reprinted by permission


From the moment of their consecration, these paintings have been inhabited by gods-the resident deities realized through contemplation by religious practitioners and initiates-but they were created by mortals. Made not by ordinary men, but by gifted artists who worked with the limited materials found in the natural world around them: from trees or silk, the flax or cotton of the fields, with dyestuffs and the minerals of the earth, bound with glue derived from animals. Yet, whether the images are exquisitely refined, sensual, powerful, lyrical, tranquil, or vibrant, there seems to be no tangible human trace of the artist.

Whatever the ascribed style and date, however, close technical examination may on occasion reveal [beneath what might appear to be a rigidly doctrinal and iconographically predetermined surface image] the practices and idiosyncrasies of its construction, which allows a fleeting vision of the artist at work: the freedom of expression in the under drawing, the confident energy or the restrained precision of the brushstroke, the variable fluidity of the paint itself, the occasional mistakes and omissions, or the breaking of conventions: in effect, the Privileges of creativity.

Style and Technique ...