Shakyamuni Buddha (Tibetan: sha kya tu pa, English: the Sage of the Shakya Clan) surrounded by narrative vignettes depicting ten previous life stories based on the text Jatakamala. (See Jataka Outline Page). The earliest known paintings depicting this subject can be found in the circumambulatory of Shalu Monastery, Tsang, Tibet.
This individual work is the 2nd left painting (L2) from a larger eleven painting set containing the thirty-four original stories of the Jatakamala along with a further sixty-seven stories supplemented by the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, 1284-1339 (biographical details). The enlarged text is known as the One Hundred Previous Life Stories (T: kye rab gya tsa). (See a blockprint set depicting 104 individual images). (For another painting from this set, fourth left, see Art of the Himalayas, the Zimmerman Family Collection, plate 101, stories 70-79 [HAR #80265-80274]).
There are ten stories represented in this painting, numbers 31 to 40, and likely ten in each of the other paintings in the eleven painting set, one hundred and one stories in all. The first story in the composition of this painting is located at the top left, Sutasoma, and each subsequent story in the composition follows below moving counter clockwise around the painting.
The stories in both this painting (L2) and the Zimmerman painting (L4) are arranged counter-clockwise. This indicates that there is likely a central painting for the set, not containing any of the Jataka stories, and all of the one hundred stories are evenly distributed in ten paintings. The paintings displaying the narratives would hang alternately to either side of the central painting. With ten stories per composition the first narrative painting (R1, stories 1-10) would hang on the right side of the central image. The second right (R2) painting would contain stories 21 to 30 followed by a painting (R3) with stories 41 to 50 and so on. All of the narrative compositions hanging on the right side of the central painting would depict the stories in a clockwise manner.
The first painting on the viewers right, left side (L1) of the central image, would have stories 11 to 20, the second painting (L2) stories 31-40 (Nalin Collection), third painting (L3) stories 51 to 60, and the fourth painting (L4, Zimmerman Collection) stories 71 to 80, etc. Calculating the positions of the paintings and how they were possibly displayed can account for why the two paintings (Nalin, Zimmerman) have sequential narratives arranged in a counter clockwise order. At this time this is a theory based on the standard presentation of painting sets. Another Jataka painting from this set needs to be found with the stories circling in a clock-wise direction.
Stories 31-40 (see Numbered Image):
31. Sutasoma top left
32. Prince of the Iron House
33. The Buffalo
34. The Woodpecker
35. Lion King bottom left
36. Great Diligence bottom right
37. The Golden King
38. The Horse
39. The King with Strength in Merit
40. Bhikshu Marvelous Light top right
Jeff Watt 6-2009