Pictorial Relationships in Tibetan Thangka Painting and Furniture, Part I: Flowers

Ahmanson Building, Level 4
May 11, 2012–May 19, 2013

This special installation is the first part of a twofold presentation examining Tibetan thangkas (religious scroll paintings) and the paintings that adorn Tibetan furniture. The elaborate and often esoteric imagery of Tibetan thangkas, manuscript illustrations, and murals is generally paralleled in the painted decoration on the exterior of Tibetan furniture, especially trunks and cabinets.

In formal Tibetan Buddhist painting (and sculpture), deities and important religious teachers are the primary subjects. In these works, various flowers, animals, and auspicious symbols are depicted as minor elements of the larger composition. Some have religious significance, as when lotuses and other sacred flowers are used to create the overall form or structural components of the deity’s divine throne. Other elements, especially vegetation and flowering plants, are mainly decorative devices, although they also document the influence of Chinese landscape traditions on Tibetan painting.

With furniture, Tibetan artists were much freer to express their individual creativity. They would often enlarge, enliven, and combine subsidiary elements such as plants and flowers to serve as the primary subject or to create protective designs on certain types of cabinets used in religious rituals.

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Image: The Buddhist Goddess Sita Tara (White Tara), Central Tibet, from a Gelukpa Monastery, 19th century, Mineral pigments and gold on cotton cloth; silk borders, Image: 32 3/4 x 21 in. (83.20 x 5.20 cm); Overall: 58 x 31 1/4 in. (147.32 x 79.38 cm), Gift of Mrs. Anna C. Walter.