Himalayan Art Resources

Exhibition: Red, Black & Gold

Red, Black & Gold
"The Colour of a Painting"

See Ground Colours Outline Page

An exhibition exploring the three unique types of Himalayan painting where colour is used to invoke mood and emotion. Red is for alarm, power, and resolve. Black is for caution, fear and protection. Gold is for wonder, wealth and opulence.

Red back ground paintings begin to appear as a popular art form in the 17th century. The popularity can be traced to Central Tibet and the art patronage of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama. Black ground paintings can be dated to the 14th and 15th centuries following even earlier models where wrathful figures are painted on a black painted surface made from charnel ground ashes. Gold ground paintings follow an early tradition of painting where compositions are applied directly onto Chinese gold silk without using a prepared ground. Paintings using a gold ground are used to depict the same subjects as those rendered on the un-grounded silk.

Red ground is appropriate for all deities that are classified in Buddhist Tantra as Power Deities, along with peaceful deities, powerful teachers and religious leaders. Red ground compositions often include gold outlining, or fill for the figures. Black ground is appropriate only for wrathful and fearsome deities and subjects. In the Tantric system there are four activities associated with four colours: peaceful = white, increasing = yellow, powerful = red, and wrathful = black, or dark blue. Gold ground is commonly used for images of the Buddha who is said to 'shine like a mountain of gold.' Gold silk and painted ground developed independent of Tantric theory and are the result of the creativity of the artist and available materials, along with the patronage of wealthy donors.

Jeff Watt & David Pritzker, February 2007