Footprints & Handprints Main Page
Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Art History
- Early Period: 11th to 14th century
- Middle Period: 15th to 17th century
- Late Period: 18th to present
- Sculpture (Early Works)
- Painting (Early Works)
- Footprints Only
- Handprints Only
- Double Handprints
- Footprints & Handprints
- Handprints on the front of a painting
- Handprints on the Back of Paintings
- Handprints as blessing on the back of a painting: Sample 1, Sample 2, Sample 3,
Sample 4, Sample 5, Sample 6.
Following after the use of footprints, handprints begin to appear and be incorporated into the composition of paintings. Although somewhat later, they become popular with the Gelug Tradition in the 17th century.
Although with a different meaning, handprints are also found on the backs of paintings placed there as a blessing - as part of the sanctification of a work. This manner of blessing appears to have been done by all traditions of Himalayan Buddhism but with the very different intention than that of the footprints placed on the front of a painting.
The Nyingma Tradition appears to have adopted the practice very late, possibly following the example set by the 5th Dalai Lama and Desi Sanggye Gyatso in the 17th century. So far there are no examples on the Himalayan Art Resources website of Sakya footprint compositions, or any affiliated schools. Historically it is a Kagyu tradition supported by early Kagyu writings later taken up by the Gelug hierarchs and painters.
Jeff Watt 11-2010 [updated 5-2017, 1-2020]
(See the publication Eternal Presence. Handprints and Footprints in Buddhist Art. Kathryn Selig Brown. Katonah Museum of Art, 2004).