Himalayan Art Resources

Teacher: Milarepa Life Story (Chamdo Sets)

Milarepa Life Story Paintings & Sets

- Chamdo Set 1
- Chamdo Set 2

The gallery below contains either one or two different painting sets depicting the life story of Milarepa. The compositions are in a Chamdo painting style dating to the late 18th and early 19th century. The name of the artist has not yet been identified, nor the precise location or date of the atelier and workshop. The total number of compositions in the complete set is currently unknown. The Chamdo painting styles, of which there are many, as there are many different artists in the chamdo region, is very typical of the Kham region of Eastern Tibet. The narrative compositions of Chamdo and Kham are open with with plenty of negative space representing the azure blue sky and verdant landscape. In comparison with the Karma Gardri Tradition and the Palpung style of painting, their compositions would be even more sparse with great empty spaces between very small figures.

It is possible that paintings #58970 and #68329 belong to the same set and the remaining four compositions belong to another set with both painting sets created by the same master artist and atelier. There are clear difference between the two groups. The physical dimensions of the first group appear vertically longer than the four in the second group. The first group has inscriptions written on the surface of the painting in relation to the narrative vignettes. The second group has inscriptions written along the unpainted margins of the composition and few inscriptions on the face of the composition. There appears to be more narratives and figures densely packed in the first group of two compositions than there appears to be in the second group of four paintings.

The Nalin Collection composition, #58970, depicts narratives from the middle part of Milarepa's life story. It contains scenes recalling the time that Milarepa's clay pot rolled down a hill and another incident where he was spotted by a farmer as he flew in the sky above and cast large shadows on the ground. Both of these narrative vignettes are found at the very bottom of the composition. Many of the vignettes in this painting can be found in painting number #9 of the famous nineteen painting Stockholm set.

The other painting from the set HAR 68329 is the last in the series and depicts the passing and cremation of Milarepa. In comparison with the Stockholm set #68329 incorporates vignettes from paintings #16 through 19 of the Stockholm set. Unfortunately this is still not helpful enough to determine exactly how many paintings belong to the full Chamdo set, but it is likely that the number is far fewer than the nineteen painting set popularized by the Khampa Gar artists of the Lhatog region.

Two paintings, #58970 and #68329, have been tentatively identified as from the same set as the other four, with the same matching palette, displayed below. Painting #58970 of the Dr. David Nalin Collection is published in Artful Beneficence (page 112), Rubin Museum of Art. Painting #68329 of the Nyingjei Lam Collection is found in the publication Himalayas An Aesthetic Adventure, The Art Institute of Chicago (page 248).

Jeff Watt [updated 3-2020]

Chang, Garma C. C. 1962. The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books. Reprint, (2 vols. in 1), Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999.
Lhalungpa, Lobsang P. 1977. The Life of Milarepa. New York: Dutton. Reprint, Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1984.

Quintman, Andrew. 2008. "Toward a Geographic Biography: Milarepa's Life in the Tibetan Landscape." Numen 55, no. 4: 363-410.