Himalayan Art Resources

Incarnation Lineage: Panchen Lama Art History

Panchen Lama Main Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Masterworks
- Outline Page
- Paintings (General)
- Painting Sets: Incarnation
- Single Composition Incarnation Lineage
- Nartang Style Composition, Iconography & Sets
- Miscellaneous Paintings - All
- Lamrim Lineage
- Sculpture
- Textiles
- Regions
- Tashi Lhunpo Style Painting
- Middle Period: 15th to 17th century
- Late Period: 18th to present
- Confusions
- Others....

- Panchen Lama in Art. Part 1
- Panchen Lama: Part 2

Key Points:
- Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltsen, 1st (4th) Panchen Incarnation.
- Artist Choying Gyatso & the first incarnation composition painting
- Pre-incarnations
- Post Incarnations
- 3rd (6th) Panchen Lama, Palden Yeshe (1738-1780)
- Nartang Style Composition, Iconography & Sets

The study of the Panchen Lama lineage portrait artworks begins with the 1st Panchen Lama, Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltsen (1570-1662). The study has two main categories of figures, the pre-incarnations and the named Panchen 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 pre-incarnations that predate the 17th century.

There are two systems commonly employed for numbering the Panchen Lamas. The first and earliest system used by the Ganden Podrang and Lhasa administration begins with Panchen Chokyi Gyaltsen (1570-1662), teacher of the 5th Dalai Lama as the 1st Panchen Lama. The second system which arose later likely in the late 18th and 19th centuries with the Panchen Labrang of Tashi Lhunpo begins with Kedrub Geleg Pal Zangpo (1385-1438) as the 1st Panchen Lama. Kedrub was a direct student of Tsongkapa. The followers of the Panchen Lama, Tashi Lhunpo Monastery and the Chinese education system follow the Panchen Labrang manner of counting. The Ganden Podrang, and many Western scholars, use the earlier system beginning with Chokyi Gyaltsen as the 1st Panchen. It is now common to find in publications and literature both numbers side by side to remove any confusion as to the correct Panchen that might be referenced. There is certainly a degree of politics as to how and why the two competing systems have developed and who adheres to which system.

There are also several lists naming the various pre-incarnations of the Panchen Lama. The longer lists include Padmasambhava and Jowo Atisha. In the [1] first and shortest list only four Indian teachers are included: Subhuti, Yashas, Bhavaviveka and Abhayakara Gupta. In the [2] second list Padmasambhava and Atisha are added for a total of six Indian pre-incarnations. In the third and longest list a further four Indian teachers are included. At least two of those are mahasiddhas with one identified as Ghantapa.

The most common set of Panchen Lama compositions are based on a Nartang Monastery thirteen painting set.They were later later carved as wood blocks for making prints. In the early 20th century this set was again re-produced in Hangzhou China as a woven textile set.

Jeff Watt Jeff Watt 4-2003 [updated 1-2019, 1-2020]

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