Himalayan Art Resources

Painting: Figurative Art Main Page

Painting & Composition Types

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Figurative Art Description
- Non-iconic & Iconic Figures Page
- Three Moods & Gender
- Eleven Figurative Forms Page (Buddhist)
- Eleven Types of Deities by Appearance (Buddhist)
- Figurative Art Outline Page
- Iconography Main Page
- Simple Figures
- Complex Figures
- Repeated Figures Composition
- Confusions
- Others...

Video: Figurative Subjects

Figurative art is the first of the three main subject groups of mural and scroll work paintings. The other two subjects are narrative and diagrammatic. Of course the latter two include figurative art but to a lesser degree and visually not the principal topic of the art work.

Painted works can be simple or complex depending on the number of figures and compositional arrangement. Many scroll work paintings have a single large figure at the center of the composition. Other compositions have dozens of secondary figures surrounding the central subject. Prior to the 16th century paintings were generally composed of related secondary figures and subjects meaning that the central figure and all secondary subjects were related in some way by the same tantric literature or cycle of tantric practice. After the 16th century painted compositions became very mixed as to the secondary figures and were often chosen based on the wishes of the commissioner of the work of art.

Figures are divided into two broad categories, non-iconic (narrative) and iconic. The non-iconic figures are primarily all of those characters from Foundational and Mahayana Buddhism. They include all of the human and heavenly players and characters involved in dialogue or represented as the audience in the sutra literature. The form of Shakyamuni Buddha in a seated standing or prone posture is the only iconic figure found in Foundational and Mahayana Buddhism. This also applies to Amitabha Buddha, Akshobhya and others, since all of these buddhas have nirmanakaya appearance which makes them indistinguishable except by colour or hand attributes.

Iconic figures are all of the characters, buddhas, bodhisattvas and deities that have a fixed physical appearance for the purposes of meditation in generation stage yoga according to Tantric theory of Vajrayana Buddhism. Iconic figures are described in iconographic texts can be arranged into three groups: the Three Moods, the Eleven Figurative Forms and the Eleven Types of Deities. (Eleven Figurative Forms).

Jeff Watt [updated 12-2018, 9-2020]