A Brief History of Thangka Painting

Before making it's way to Tibet, the traditions of Buddhist Art first evolved in India and Nepal. Initially coming to Tibet under the reign of the first Tibetan Dharma King, Songtsen Gampo (c. 605-650), who strategically married both a Chinese Princess and Nepali Princess to aid in the spread of Dharma in his lands. Each princess brought statues of the Buddha with them upon their marriage, due to the lack of Dharma in Tibet at the time. These statues became the two famed Jowo Statues in Lhasa, Tibet today. Later, under the reign of the Dharma King, Trisong Deutsen (c. 782-800) Buddhism was widely established as the religion of Tibet under the guidance of the Indian Buddhist masters Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra, and Shantarakshita.  It was during this time the making of Buddhist artwork began to flourish in the land of Tibet.  


After the dark age in Tibet, under the reign of King Langdarma, and the subsequent revival, a master artist named Dolpa Tashi Gyalpo was born at the end of 14th century (approx. 1388). He had two main disciples, Menla Döndrup and Gongkar Gantrö Khyentse, who both surpassed him in skill.  Menla Döndrup was the famed founder of the first truly Tibetan painting tradition, known as the Menri.


Later a New Menri lineage developed in the Tibetan province of Tsang and was adapted from the Old Menri.  The Mensar (New Menri) lineage continues to this day. Lama Sonam is a holder of this lineage and instructs Cody Mekelburg in its methods and practices. 



For more information on the history of Thangka Painting and Sacred Art see The Art of Awakening by Khonchog Lhadrepa & Charlotte Davis.