Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Composition - Repeated Figures Main Page

Four Composition Types

- Description & Examples

- Art History

- Masterworks

- Repeated Figure Composition, Part 1
- Repeated Figure Composition, Part 2

Repeated images surrounding a central figure are common in Himalayan and Tibetan art. The images of paintings found on this page are only a selection from some of the larger museum collections on the HAR website.

The central subject of post 17th century paintings can be almost any figure, a buddha, deity, teacher or wrathful protector. Sometimes even non-figurative stupa forms are used. The surrounding subject can also be a repeat of the central subject or another unrelated figurative subject. The consistency is in the surrounding figures all being the same. Sometimes each figure is drawn individually by hand but more often the figures are created from a wood block stamping the outline of a number of figures at the same time or some other such mold to replicate the outline of a large number of images quickly and then painted to a greater or lesser degree.

In Figurative Art these 'repeated background figure paintings' are the only late compositions to retain and promote the use of registers right up to the present time.

The purpose of such paintings is to create large numbers of the same identical subject, person or deity. This in turn multiplies the amount of merit from creating a single holy image to a hundred-fold amount of merit from creating a hundred auspicious images of the same subject. Sets of paintings with repeated images can also be found either identical in composition or with very slight changes. The sets of paintings can also be very large in format and intended to hang in temples, others are singular compositions for personal use and created to over come individual bad omens or misfortune. The creation of which is often recommended by a teacher (lama) through divination rituals.

The main characteristic for 'repeated background figure paintings' is the repetition of the same figure through the registers, top to bottom. Very occasionally there could be two repeated figures alternating in the registers (see example). These types of compositions can easily be confused with several other painting subjects that use similar repeated figures in similar registers. However, these subjects and these paintings are depicting unique figures each with a unique identity, name, description and mantra. Repeated Figure Composition paintings are easily - confused with early Charya and Yoga Tantra paintings where many buddhas are represented in the extended mandala retinues.

Jeff Watt 4-2012 [updated 5-2014, 5-2017, 9-2020]