The 14th century mural paintings at Zhalu monastery in central Tibet are famed for their beauty and renowned for their fine state of preservation. These important mural paintings include a set of the largest and earliest surviving Tibetan depictions of the previous incarnations of the Buddha (Jataka) painted around the temple’s circumambulatory passage. These paintings of 100 previous lives represent the earlier incarnations of the bodhisattva as kings, merchants, monkeys and elephants, over the many aeons that he accumulated the ample merit necessary to become Shakyamuni. But why paint these up high in a narrow passage? What did these paintings do for the temple and its users? What texts informed these paintings? What styles and artistic awareness did they reflect? This talk will examine my current research and offer some reflections on what we can learn about 14th century Tibet from these paintings, arguing that these mural paintings can help to explain the significant relationships between religious practice, textual canon formation, patronage and art in 14th century Tibet.
Sarah Richardson is a PhD candidate in the Art History department. Her dissertation on Zhalu concerns the interface of visuality and textuality in 14th century Tibetan mural painting.