Himalayan style art is completely understandable and easy to grasp if the basic building blocks of form, colour, and simple symbolism are known. Painting is primarily figurative, narrative or diagrammatic in subject. The figurative paintings are by far the more common. There are only eleven basic figurative appearances commonly found in all of the art - with few variations. There are three basic moods which refer to facial expression. As for the limbs, a basic figure has one face, two arms and two legs. When working with symbolic art there can be body forms that have multiple limbs, multiple heads, arms and legs. Figures can have an unusual body colour such as white, yellow, red or blue. The size of the figures within a composition generally indicates importance and the arrangement often indicates the hierarchy and order to follow in reading a composition. Understanding these basic and most common components of the art can lead to a greater appreciation of the meaning and power of the visual composition, symbolic representations and artistic intention.
The name Buddha is very common to most people and can also apply to many things. In Himalayan Art and in identifying the figures the Buddha must first be understood to mean 'Buddha Appearance.' This means that a figurative object, a form, has a particular look which is defined as Buddha Appearance. The main characteristics are the pile of hair in a round tuft on the top of the head crowned with a gold ornament, a white dot between the eyebrows, adorning the neck are three slightly curved lines, and the body clothed with patchwork robes. The earlobes are long and pierced. The legs are folded in a posture with the right leg over the left. Often the right hand is in a gesture of touching the ground but there are several other combinations of gestures that are commonplace and carry symbolic or narrative meaning.Amitayus Buddha & Deities Beijing, 18th-19th Century D514 (HAR 83414)
Amitayus Buddha is the same entity as Amitabha Buddha. He is a Buddha with two different appearances. The only difference is one figure has ornaments and the other figure does not have ornaments. In this depiction he is red in colour but often he can also be depicted as gold in colour. In this composition there are five figures, two are male and three are female. The males have flat horizontal hairlines and the female figures have oval faces. All five have Peaceful Appearance.
The word Buddha has two meanings, the first meaning refers to the historical Buddha or an individual that has reached enlightenment. The second meaning refers to a figure in art that has Buddha Appearance. This painting is an excellent example of Buddha Appearance. Note the crown of the head, long earlobes, three lines under the neck, robes, bare right arm and legs folded together with the right leg over the left.
Amitabha Buddha and Amitayus are the same Buddha. When depicted as Amitabha he has Buddha Appearance but when depicted as Amitayus Buddha he has Peaceful Appearance. In this composition Amitabha is seen with Buddha Appearance in the heaven of the Western Paradise with a giant wish fulfilling tree behind and many disciples and students seated in front with beautiful parks and water ponds.
This is a standard depiction of Shakyamuni Buddha. The hair, face, ears, neck, robes and folded legs are the typical identifying characteristics for Buddha Appearance. In this composition Shakyamuni is accompanied by his principal students and the Sixteen Elders. Pictured at the bottom of the composition are the two attendants and the Four Guardian Kings.
Amitayus is a Buddha that has the appearance of a peaceful deity with rich ornaments and flowing silk garments. Amitayus belongs to the category of Long-life Deity and is believed to help prolong life and improve poor health. A small Amitabha Buddha sits at the top center of the composition.