Thangka

by | Nov 14, 2018

Tibetan scroll painting or “Thangka” belong to the rich Tibetan cultural heritage and are an integral part of many public and private collection of Asian Art in the western world. Their existence is linked to the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet in the 7th century, although the earliest known examples date from the 13th century.

According to its material and craftsmanship, Tibetan Thangka is divided into three kinds: Painting Thangka, Textile Thangka, Printed Thangka. The embroidered Thangka, brocade Thangka, tapestry Thangka, applique Thangka, and pearl Thangka are especially valuable.

Traditionally, Thangka paintings are not only valued for their aesthetic beauty but primarily for their use as aids in meditational practices. Practitioners use Thangkas to develop a clear visualization of a particular deity, strengthening their concentration, and forging a link between themselves and the deity. Historically, Thangkas were also used as teaching tools to convey the lives of various masters. A teacher or lama would travel around giving talks on Dharma, carrying with him large Thangka scrolls to illustrate his stories.

Therefore, Thangkas are not the product of an artist’s imagination but are as carefully executed as a blueprint drawing, the role of the artist is somewhat different than the inventor we know him to be in the West. The role of the artist becomes one of a medium or channel, who rises above his own mundane consciousness to bring a higher truth into this world. In order to ensure that this truth remains intact, he must diligently adhere to all the correct guidelines.

Aspiring Thangka artists must spend years studying the iconographic grids and proportions of different deities and then master the technique of mixing and applying mineral pigments. To make a Thangka, first, a piece of canvas is stitched onto a wooden frame. It is prepared with a mixture of chalk, gesso, and base pigment, and rubbed smooth with a glass until the texture of the cloth is no longer apparent. The outline of the deity is sketched in pencil onto the canvas using iconographic grids and then outlined in black ink. Powders composed of crushed mineral and vegetable pigments are mixed with water and adhesive to create paint. Some of the elements used are quite precious, such as lapis lazuli for dark blue. Landscape elements are blocked in and shading is applied using both wet and dry brush techniques. Finally, a pure gold paint is added, and the thangka is framed in a precious brocade border. A standard Thangka in our collection, which is about 18 x 12cm in takes an artist about six weeks to complete.

These days, it is becoming more and more rare to find genuine Thangkas because of the length of time it takes to learn the skill and create a painting properly.

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