Himalayan Art Resources

Painting Tradition: Menri

Terminology & Classification of Traditions & Style Names

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Mantangpa (artist)
- Artist sketchbook
- Painting Traditions
- Painting Styles
- Masterworks
- Confusions: New Menri
- Others...

- Menri & New Menri Painting Styles
- Menri Painting Style & Tradition

Menri Painting Style Facts:
- Menri painting style & New Menri painting style are NOT the same style
- Menri was started by Mantangpa (mid 15th century)
- New Menri was started by Choying Gyatso (mid 17th century)
- Menri painting style & New Menri painting style ONLY share the same name

Menri Background (Landscape) Style Types:
- Person Depictions
- Peaceful Deity Depictions
- Wrathful Deity Depictions

There are seven paintings and one sketchbook in the image gallery below that claim to belong to the original Menri painting style.

The Menri style and tradition of Tibetan painting was founded by Mantangpa Manla Dondrub (late 15th, early 16th century). Currently there is only one known work attributed to Mantangpa by inscription. There is also an artist sketchbook attributed by inscription to his principal student named Trengkhapa Lodro Zangpo who was also a student of the 3rd Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588). Information on the life of Trengkhapa can be found in several biographies including that of the 3rd Dalai Lama. Trengkhapa is also renowned for formulating the most precise measurements for stupa construction which are still used today. Both Tashi Lhunpo and Yangpachen monastery have in their recorded histories that certain temples were decorated in the Menri painting style. In modern times some artists claim that there are three styles that are known as Menri, original menri, new menri, and old menri which came about later as an attempt to revive the original menri style. There are so few menri painting examples making it difficult to create a meaningful chronology of known paintings in the Menri style and later tradition.

The 5th Dalai Lama, Lobzang Gyatso (1617-1682) is recorded as saying that Mantangpa was a great artist but Trengkhapa was better. He further stated that Mantangpa was good at drawing but Trengkhapa was good at drawing as well as colour and composition. The evidence for this was in comparing paintings and murals produced by both artists. The works were done in the 16th century and the comparisons by the 5th Dalai Lama were done in the 17th century. The murals and paintings are no longer extant.

Another example of the Menri tradition painting exists, a Sarvavid Maha Vairochana painting, with a lengthy inscription composed by the 5th Dalai Lama where he states that it is done following in a Menri style for the funeral services of a Mongolian prince.

Alongside Mantangpa was another great artist named Khyentse Chenmo who founded the Khyenri Tradition of Tibetan painting. It is commonly said that both Mantangpa and Khyentse had the same painting teacher - Dopa Tregyal. Khyentse's work can be found as murals at the Gongkar Chode Monastery just west of Lhasa.

In the 17th century there arose a new painting style created in the Tashi Lhunpo, Shigatse, area by the artist Choying Gyatso. This new style was referred to as 'New' Menri (men ri sar ma, men sar).

Chronology of known paintings in the Menri Tradition:
- Shakyamuni Buddha composition attributed by inscription to Mantangpa (15th century)
- Tashi Lhunpo Buddha mural attributed to Mantangpa (15th century)
- Yangpachen Tara mural attributed to Mantangpa (15th century)
- Sakya Painting Set (circa 1530, unknown artist)
- Sketchbook attributed by inscription to Trengkawa (late 16th century)
- White Manjushri attributed by inscription to Choying Dorje (early to mid 17th century)
- Vairochana Buddha commissioned by the 5th Dalai Lama (circa 1654/55)
- Others...

Jeff Watt 8-2015 [updated 8-2017, 4-2018]