Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Four Milarepa Paintings

There are four paintings that depict the Tibetan yogi Milarepa in a similar composition and posture. They are numbered one through four and arranged according to a possible chronology of oldest to youngest. All four figures have essentially the same posture, head and facial features, along with wardrobe and deerskin mat, seated above a rocky outcropping. Starting on the left, composition #1 states that it was "painted by the hand of Choggyur Lingpa." If the inscription is in fact accurate then it would likely have been painted sometime between the mid 1800s and 1870. The significant questions are, did Choggyur Lingpa copy a previous model for the form of Milarepa or did he create this composition from his own imagination? Was Choggyur Lingpa known as an artist as well as a Kagyu and Nyingma Terton - "Treasure Discoverer"? Does his biography mention or provide a list of the artworks he created? Paintings #1 and #2 are the closest in depiction, but it is obvious that all four are based on the same model.


Andrew Quintman said...


This is fascinating, and the inscribed painting by Chogyur Lingpa is really outstanding. Thank you!

There is a potentially (probably) earlier "model" of Mila in a nearly identical posture kept as one of the treasures in Rumtek--a small statue carved from rhino horn attributed to the 10th Karmapa. I believe it was first published in Douglas and White's The Black Hat Lamas and reproduced in Jackson's History. (One funny thing is that Tucci claims in TPS that the figure cannot be Mila since he is not in the classical "singing" pose.) I've often wondered if this was somehow related to the nearly identical form of LokeĊ›vara.

In a related note: there seems to have been a tradition of depicting Mila in slightly modified way, in which his left hand rests on the ground behind his leg as here, but his right hand to his ear. This seems to have been popular in East Tibet/China.


Himalayan Art Resources said...

The Lokeshvara form known as 'sem nyi ngal so' is very similar in appearance with these four depictions of Milarepa. However, the 'sem nyi ngal so' has more complexity to the iconography than what is found here in these paintings. Paintings #1 and #4 both clearly have the hunter story in the scene directly beneath the central figure. The creators of these paintings seem to think, at least in two instances, that they were depicting Milarepa.

I will find the image of the Rumtek sculpture and examples of the 'sem nyi ngal so' form of Lokeshvara and upload them to the site.

--- Jeff