Himalayan Art Resources

Painting Style: Palpung Monastery

Palpung Painting Style | Terminology & Classification of Style Names

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Palpung Monastery Painting Style Description (below)
- Situ Panchen Painting Commissions
- Palpung following a Karma Gar-ri Style for Lineage Paintings
- Masterworks
- Confusions: Karma Gar-ri Style, Yongle Style Painting
- Others...

Palpung Painting Styles & Types:
- Palpung Unique Painting Style (see below)
- Karma Gar-ri (Late)
- Narrative Paintings: Avadana & Jataka
- Eight & Eighty-four Mahasiddhas
- Bodhisattva Set (Konchog Pende)
- Others...

Examples of three Iconographic Subjects in Palpung Style Painting:
Teachers & Siddhas | Peaceful & Semi Peaceful Deities | Wrathful Deities

The images in this gallery are a selection of paintings following the unique Palpung style from the 18th to the 20th century. In Palpung Monastery there are two main styles of painting. The first is the Karma Gar-ri painting style used almost exclusively for depictions of the Karma Kagyu lineage (Sertreng). The second is the unique Palpung style which is essentially, for the depictions of figures, derived from the Khyenri style of painting. All of the Palpung paintings employ a minimalist style except for the the early Karma Gar-ri and late Karma Gar-ri copies. Minimalism is a very special characteristic of Palpung style paintings.

The unique characteristics of the style are the open background and sparse landscapes combined with bold and expressive figures as if floating in the composition. The deities are primarily following after the Khyenri style which Situ Panchen in particular mentions in his biography as a style that must be copied and emulated especially for the deities (see the Twenty-seven Tantric Deities). The Mahasiddha paintings have slightly more landscape with which to divide the siddhas and their abbreviated narrative characteristics. The iconography of the Eight Mahasiddha set is based on a text of Dolpopa. The painting sets of the Eighty-four Mahasiddha are based on the writings of Jonang Taranata. Likewise, the Shambhala Kings follow the descriptions in the Jonang literature. The background landscape of the Shambhala Kings appears to be a blend of Karma Gar-ri transitioning into the new minimalist Palpung style of Situ Panchen. See the gallery of Situ Panchen Painting Commissions for more examples.

Palpung monastery also continued a tradition of painting that preserved elements of the earlier Karma Gar-ri painting style (Karmapa Tent Encampment Style) developed during the 16th century and still employed during the early and mid 17th century. The Karma Kagyu Sertreng Lineage paintings commissioned in association with Palpung Monastery continued to be painted in a Karma Gar-ri style albeit with changes to suite the times and inclinations of the artists.

It should be noted that even though the Palpung style of painting and the Karma Gar-ri style are completely different, regardless of that, within many Eastern Tibetan communities both styles, the original Karma Gar-ri and the Palpung style, are referred to as Karma Gar-ri. This shared name used for two different and distinct painting styles continues to create confusion in the field of Himalayan and Tibetan art studies.

Jeff Watt 5-2014 [updated 6-2017]

(The images below are only a selection of examples).