Himalayan Art Resources

Incarnation Lineage: Dalai Lama Art History

Dalai Lama Main Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Art History (below)
- Masterworks
- Paintings (General)
- Painting Sets: Incarnation
- Lamrim Lineage
- Sculpture
- Regions
- Early Works
- Late Period: 18th to present
- Confusions: Lamrim Lineage Paintings, Example 1, Example 2
- Others....

Video: Dalai Lamas in Art

Key Points:
- Ngagwang Lobzang Gyatso, 5th Dalai Lama
- Four Pre-incarnations (1st through 4th Dalai Lamas)
- Yontan Gyatso & the 'dalai' name
- Pre-Dalai Incarnations
- Post Incarnations
- 18th century Painting Set

The study of the Dalai Lama lineage portrait artworks begins with the 5th Dalai Lama Ngagwang Lobzang Gyatso (1617-1682). The study has two main categories of figures, the pre-incarnations and the named Dalai Lama incarnations. By medium there are paintings and sculpture. By context there are individual works and sets of works. The majority of extant artworks belong to sets of paintings. There are very few examples of the four early Dalai Lamas that predate the 17th century. (See an early painting of the 3rd Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso).

Tsangyang Gyatso, the 6th Dalai Lama (1683-1706/46 [23 or 63]) along with the 9th through 12th Dalai Lamas had relatively short life spans and therefore for the most part no portraits outside of the standard incarnation lineage sets are found. The principal Dalai Lamas to be found in paintings with additional biographical or in a devotional context are the 5th, 7th, 8th and 13th Dalai Lamas.

The collection of scrollwork art depicting the Dalai Lama has single compositions highlighting an individual Dalai Lama. There are single compositions which depict either all or a selection of Dalai Lamas. Sets of paintings generally depict a single central figure or several figures including pre-incarnations. A good example of multiple figures per composition in a painting set is demonstrated in the Field Museum collection and the artist Khazi Lhazo set.

There are extended lists of the pre-incarnations and abbreviated lists. The abbreviated enumeration is generally what is found with both painting and sculpture. The extended list includes the added figures contained in the Kadam Legbam text and generally only reproduced as block prints because of the number of total figures.

Jeff Watt 2-2002 [updated 4-2017, 1-2020]

(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links above).