Himalayan Art Resources

Incarnation Lineage: Panchen Lama (Nartang Extended)

Nartang Extended Set | Nartang Art Page

Image Numbers: 30627, 30628, 30629, 30630, 30631, 30632, 30633, 30634, 30635.

Panchen Lama Incarnation Lineage Painting Set (Nineteen [19] Compositions):

Central Image: *Lobzang Palden Yeshe, 3rd Panchen (1738-1780)

Right 1. *Subhuti
Right 2. Bhaviveka (Bhavaviveka)
Right 3. *Siddha with a hand drum & skullcup
Right 4. Unknown (Padmasambhava or Atisha)
Right 5. Unknown
Right 6. *Go Lotsawa Kugpa Latse (11th century)
Right 7. Yungton Dorje Pal (1284-1365)
Right 8. *Sonam Choglang (1438-1505)
Right 9. *Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltsen, 1st Panchen (1570-1662)

Left 1. *King Yashas
Left 2. *Ghantapa
Left 3. Unknown (Padmasambhava or Atisha)
Left 4. Unknown
Left 5. Abhayakara Gupta
Left 6. Sakya Pandita (1182-1251)
Left 7. *Kedrub Geleg Pal Zangpo (1385-1438)
Left 8. Lobzang Dondrub (1505-1564)
Left 9. Lobzang Yeshe, 2nd Panchen (1663-1737)

(* known paintings arranged according to the Tibetan placement notations found on the back of each painting along with the chronological order of the incarnation lineage).

There are three standard visual presentations for depicting the Panchen Lama incarnation and pre-incarnation lineage. They can be described as short, medium and long. The shortest of the three numbers thirteen figures [13] in total and the best and most complete example is a set of paintings in the collection of Tibet House, New Delhi. The medium length enumeration and visual depiction adds two more figures - Padmasambhava and Atisha for a total of fifteen [15]. A wood block print edition of the Prajnaparamita Sutra decorated with numerous Buddhas, deities, individual teachers and lineages of teachers and incarnations best highlights the inclusion of the two additional figures of the medium enumeration. The longest presentation of the incarnation lineage adds four more Indian teachers for a total of nineteen [19] individuals and potentially nineteen individual painted compositions. The numbers of thirteen, fifteen and nineteen are all three based on the central figure of the earliest and most important of the sets being the person of the 3rd Panchen Lama, Lobzang Palden Yeshe (1738-1780). It was during the later life of the 3rd Panchen that the sets of paintings became widespread and popular.

The Nartang style composition is believed by some Tibetan scholars to be based on an original painting by Choying Gyatso (ca. 1615-85) depicting the 1st Panchen Lama and his previous incarnations. There are similarities between some of the secondary figures of this work and the later depictions of the previous incarnations found in the Nartang block print set.

Aside from the example of a unique Nartang set exhibited on this gallery page there are two other outstanding examples of Nartang Panchen Lama painting sets. The earlier of the two belongs to the Newark Museum of Art in New Jersey. The collection only has one composition from the set but that composition, Sakya Pandita, shows a quality and refinement which would also be expected from the full set of paintings. The second set of exquisite paintings belongs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. That collection only has two examples from the full set. The subjects are two of the pre-incarnations, Bhaviveka and Kedrub Geleg Pal Zangpo.

A set of Twenty-one Taras of the Atisha Tradition, also dated to the mid 18th century, has the interesting iconographic feature of depicting the extended nineteen figure Panchen Lama incarnation lineage. Only nine paintings are currently accounted for from the original set of twenty-one compositions. A most interesting detail is found with painting #17 (left 8) where in the top right corner there is a depiction of the mahasiddha Ghantapa. That Ghantapa of the Twenty-one Tara set and the Ghantapa as a central figure exhibited in the gallery below are an almost exact match, one copied from the other, or both copied from a third source.

The additional four figures included in the Nartang extended set of 19 compositions appears to be based on the life story of Kedrub Geleg Pal Zangpo (1385-1438) where it is claimed that he had previous incarnations as Ghantapa, Vidyakokila the elder and Dagpo Lhaje (Gampopa). It is not clear when Padmasambhava and Jowo Atisha were added to the list of previous incarnations.

The style of painting found with the Choying Gyatso composition and then the subsequent paintings that surely led to the creation of the Nartang wood block carvings follows the new menri style of art popular in the 17th century. The extended version of the Panchen Lama incarnation lineage below is still a continuation of the new menri but with a strong move in the 18th century to an emphasis on brighter colours, landscape with perspective, flowers, trees and birds. Although the palette and movement of the extended lineage paintings are visually different from the original block prints and painted examples, the over-all composition of the extended lineage remains the same. This particular style would come to be known as Tsang-ri, or the style of Tsang Province, also Tashi Lhunpo style, or Shigatse style. (See other examples of the style: 4th Panchen Lama, Refuge Field, White Mahakala (1), White Mahakala (2), Black Mahakala, and Red Mahakala).

Jeff Watt 7-2013