All you need to know about Thangkas
A thangka, variously spelt as thangka, tangka, thanka, or tanka, is a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala.
Table of Contents
- 1 - The delicate nature of a Thangka
- 2 - Similarity with Western portraits
- 3 - Personal meditation & monastic teachings
- 4 - Glossary of terms related to Thangkas
The delicate nature of a Thangka
Thangkas are traditionally kept unframed and rolled up when not on display, mounted on a textile backing somewhat in the style of Chinese scroll paintings, with a further silk cover on the front.
Well treated, thangkas can last a long time, but because of their delicate nature, they have to be kept in dry places where moisture will not affect the quality of the silk.
Similarity with Western portraits
Most thangkas are relatively small, comparable in size to a Western half-length portrait, but some are extremely large, several metres in each dimension.
Large thangkas are designed to be displayed, typically for very brief periods on a monastery wall, as part of religious festivals.
Personal meditation & monastic teachings
Most thangkas were intended for personal meditation or instruction of monastic students.
They often have elaborate compositions including many very small figures.
A central deity is often surrounded by other identified figures in a symmetrical composition.
Narrative scenes are less common, but do appear.
Glossary of terms related to Thangkas
Thangka is an art. A thangka is a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, silk applique, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala. Thangkas are traditionally kept unframed and rolled up when not on display, mounted on a textile backing somewhat in the style of Chinese scroll paintings, with a further silk cover on the front.
Paubhā is a traditional religious painting made by the Newar people of Nepal. Paubhas depict deities, mandalas or monuments, and are used to help the practitioner meditate. The Tibetan equivalent is known as Thangka.
Applique Thangkas are made of silk, either by appliqué or embroidery.
During some festivals, giant applique thangkas are designed to be unrolled against a wall in a monastery for particular religious occasions
A thangka wall is, in Tibetan religious architecture, a stone-built structure used for hanging giant, or monumental, appliqued thangkas, or scrolls, in some of the major Buddhist monasteries of Tibet. These giant thangkas are called gos ku, goku, gheku, kiku in Tibetan. The thangka wall stands on a hillside from where it overlooks the monastic settlement. Its form is that of a narrow, elongated and tall rectangular building with a battered façade and a flat roof surrounded by a parapet.
Tree of physiology
The Tree of physiology is a Tibetan Thangka depicting human physiology and certain pathological transformations.
Conservation and restoration of Tibetan thangkas
The conservation and restoration of Tibetan thangkas is the physical preservation of the traditional religious Tibetan painting form known as a thangka. When applied to thangkas of significant cultural heritage, this activity is generally undertaken by a conservator-restorer.
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A complementary division of Thangkas by type:
– Painted in colors (most common type)
– Appliqué with Embroideries (used during festivals)
– Black Background (gold line on a black background)
– Blockprints (paper or cloth outlined renderings, by woodcut/woodblock printing)
– Gold / Silver Background (representing deities or fully enlightened buddhas)
– Red Background (gold line on vermillion)