Himalayan Art Resources

Teacher: Tsongkapa (Early Paintings, 15/16th Century)

Tsongkapa Art History

For composition styles, paintings of Tsongkapa (1357–1419) can be divided into early period and a latter period. The examples below are 15th and early 16th century compositions. The majority of the examples depict Tsongkapa along with the Yogachara and Madhyamaka lineages which are the basis for the Lamrim (Graduated Path) teachings of the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Two of the compositions display the life story or selected life events of Tsongkapa (see examples: #510, #74029).

Video: Tsongkapa: Early Paintings

The early paintings are differentiated from the later paintings by the compositional style. Early paintings exhibit a register format composition. The later paintings generally after the 15th century use a floating figure composition.

With the early paintings, aside from the lineage registers, there can be two, four, six or eight, close students to the right and left sides of Tsongkapa. In later paintings there are typically only the two famous students - Khedrub and Gyaltsab.

The monastic garments, hand gestures and posture of Tsongkapa are generally fixed. Changes in gesture and posture can be seen in 18th century sets of paintings depicting the life story of Tsongkapa. The fifteen composition set is the most common and follows the guidelines of Jamyang Shepa (1648-1721/2) for illustrating the major events in the life story.

Visual Study Topics
- Central Figure
- Composition Style
- Attendant Figures
- Register Lineages (Yogachara & Madhyamaka)
- Additional Deities (Buddha, Bodhisattva, Ishtadevata, Dharmapala)
- Donor Figure

Jeff Watt [updated 4-2021]

(The text and images displayed on this page in no way state or imply that these constitute the only early paintings depicting Tsongkapa. These images are what is currently represented on the HAR website).