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Tibetan Thangka

Thangka refers to the religious scroll painting framed with color stain which used for worshiping. It is an art form with unique features in Tibetan culture. The themes of the paintings include history, policy, culture, social life and so on. The Thangka handed down from ancient times are mainly works of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon. Thangka is a Tibetan transliteration, which means religious worship scroll painting mounted by colorful stain.

Tibetan Thangka History

Tibetan Thangka Painting
Due to natural and historical reasons, it is difficult to trace the origins of Thangka. According to legend, Tubo King Srongtsen Gampo used his nosebleed and painted the portrayal of Bailamu following the divine guidance, and this was the first Thangka. According to legend, the tangka was hidden by Living Buddha into the abdomen of the Bailamu’s statue. The art of painting can be traced back earliest may to the Neolithic, and to the Tubo Dynasty, the art of painting was perfected.

Thangka as a kind of mural at the latest appeared before the middle of the seven century. Early Thangkas, due to the suppression of Buddhism by Langdarma, were with no trace to be found: in addition to a small number of existing Thangka during Song and Yuan Dynasties, most works were collective works when Lobsang Gyatso, the Fifth Dalai, administrated the area.
Thangka, before Lobsang Gyatso, had previously been scattered works painted by the folk artist to dedicat to the monasteries. Since the fifth Dalai Lama, there established a institution just as the imperial art academy. Thangka’s creation walks into a specialized creative period. Later the Seventh Dalai Kelsang Gyatso set the official imperial art academy. Among all the types of Thangka, Mengtang is the most influence one. 

Tibetan Thangka Painting Techniques

Thangka painting has several processes, which takes often as long as several months or even years to painting one thangka. The pigments all get from the local mines or plant such as gold, silver, agate, pearls, cinnabar, ocher, saffron, madder, rhubarb, etc.. These pigments are grinded for many times, and added with a small amount of the gel cattle bile corrosion, so the color will enduring. 

Choosing canvas for painting: The canvas is usually light-colored, not too thick nor too hard to avoid from making the paint peeling and wrinkle cracking. The most suitable canvas is pure white poplin or cotton cloth with fine texture. White silk without pattern is also a good choice. Some of the tangka pieces are very large and can only be sewed together with two pieces of canvas with very fine stitches. The seams between the two pieces of cloth stitched together should not hinder the integrity of the tangka picture.

Fixed the canvas: Sew it on a thin wooden frame along the four sides of the canvas, tighten the canvas on the fine wooden frame, then firmly attach the thin wooden frame to the large easel with strong rope.

Tibetan Thangka Painting

Glue and polish: First, apply a thin layer of glue to the canvas as a "base color" and make it air dried. After that, apply a thin layer of lime paste. When the second layer of paint is dry, spread the canvas over flat areas like planks and tables, rub the canvas repeatedly with a piece of glass, a shell or a boulder until the cloth on the canvas is out of sight.

Correct canvas: correct its direction of horizontal and vertical. 

Determine the lines: Draw the main positioning lines, including side lines, center vertical lines, two diagonal lines, and any other contours to mark.

Tibetan Thangka Painting

Draw the sketch: Use charcoal to draw a sketch of the Buddha, known as "white painting", and then use ink to draw the ink line, known as “black painting”

Tibetan Thangka Painting

Color: According to the different scenes depicted in the picture, the corresponding colors are applied to different scenes. Only one color at a time, first light, then dark. When painting Buddha statues, first draw lotus agora, then the decoration, and finally draw the body of Buddha. When drawing a background, start with a light color and then a dark color. 

Draw the outline: When the above parts are all finished, use the gold color to draw the pattern on the clothes, known as “gold painting”. Some of the decorations and other parts of the picture are also lined with colorful lines.

Tibetan Thangka Painting

Draw the face: Painting the eyes, lips, nose, hands, feet and nails is the last procedure of thangka rendering process, which is the most important step. The success or failure of a thangka often depends on whether the face is well painted. According to the traditional custom, it is very important to choose a good day for drawing the face.

Types of Tangka

Tibetan medicine thangka

According to the content:
Buddha's thangka, biography thangka, history thangka, legend thangka, moral thangka, astronomical thangka, calendar thangka, Tibetan medicine thangka, etc.

According to the size: large thangka, ordinary thangka, small thangka

embroidery thangka

According to the material: embroidery thangka, K'o-ssu thangka, brocade thangka, applique thangka, painting thangka, pearl thangka

Tibetan Thangka Features

Thangka, with distinctive ethnic characteristics, strong religious overtones and unique artistic style, has always been regarded as the treasures of Tibetan people. Thangka’s varieties and textures are varied, but most are drawn on canvas and paper. There is also embroidery, brocade, tapestry and other fabrics applique thangkas. Some even decorated with gold bead, a perfect fit. Thangka painting is the miracle of Tibetan culture with more than a thousand years far-reaching influence.

1. Thangka’s contents are various: Both various Buddha and paintings reflects the Tibetan history and ethnic customs. Thangka has rigorous composition, balanced, full, varied, drawing mainly meticulous re-color and based on line drawing.

2. Variety of species, in addition to the printed Thangka and Thangka painting, there are also embroidery, tapestry (Duixiu), tapestry, decal, pearl Thangka andso on.
3. Embroidery Thangka is embroidered with colored silk. The landscapes, figures, flowers, feathers, pavilions, etc. can be embroidered.
4. Brocade thangka is a kind of "Duixiu."
5. Applique thangka is colored stain which is cut into a variety of characters and graphics, and paste on the fabric.

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