Taklung Lineage of Lamas

ca. 1300 - 1350
Tibet, Riwoche monastery
Distemper on cloth
38 by 32 cm - 15 by 12 ⅝ in


This painting depicts a pair of Taklungmonks, the Third Abbot of Taklung (1203-1272) on the left and his spiritualsuccessor, the Second Abbot of Riwoche (1293 to 1366) on the right, deeplyengaged in religious debate. Specifically identified in an inscription on the verso of the painting,it is likely that the pair bears some resemblance to the historical figuresthat they represent.[1] Each seated upon a bold multi-coloredlotus platform, the monks are cloaked in richly patterned red and goldvestments that stand out against the bright green throne backs. Makaras,vyalas and recumbent lions decoratethe periphery of the thrones, and a series of stylized mountain staves dividethe central figures from the group above. Beneath, an elegant band of foliage separates the monks from the deitiesbelow.

As is typical of Taklung paintings, thecentral figures are surrounded by a series of masters, disciples, and protectordeities whose presence establishes their lineage, and thus their directconnection to the teachings of the Taklung branch of the Kagyu Order.[2] Prominently featured in this painting,Taklung Thangpa Chenpo or Tashipel, the founder of the Taklung monastery in1180, sits between the monks at shoulder level. Above him, his teacher, Phagmogrupa, displays the gesture ofdharmacakra. Interestingly, Phagmogrupa's broad faceand beard and Tashipel's distinctive moustache and goatee are similar to thosedepicted on earlier Taklung portraits, and thus confirm their identities.

Based on the inscription and style, thisportrait relates to the numerous thankas associated with Riwoche, a branch ofthe Taklung monastery located in Kham whose fame soon rivaled that of theoriginal Taklung center. Riwochewas founded by Onpo in 1276 following a schism of power at Taklung. In order to legitimize its existence asa new monastery, many portraits were commissioned that directly linkedspiritual leaders in Riwoche to the Taklung lineage. Although a shared ancestry is undeniable, works from Riwochediffer stylistically from those painted at the Taklung center. Riwoche subjects were set against amore open background, and for the first time shading was used to create theillusion of three-dimensionality. Both of these elements are evidenced in the present example.[3]

Although no date is specified in theinscription, it is documented that the Second Abbot of Riwoche only assumed theabbatial throne in 1336. Giventhis fact, it is very unlikely that this painting was made prior to that time.It is more probable that the painting was made in the year or so following hisdeath as homage to his memory.

[1] We are grateful toDr. Amy Heller for her translation of the inscription on the painting's verso,a copy of which is available.

[2] See Kossak and Singer (1998), p. 26. This Portrait of Two Monks, c. 1300, is painted in a formatsimilar to that of the present example. Both paintings are divided into three distinct sections, and serve tolink the central figures to their divine heritage.

[3] For a related fourteenth century example of a Riwoche painting thatdepicts Jnanatapa Surrounded by Lamas and Eight Great Siddhas, see Linrothe(2006), no. 7.