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A Visual Analysis Of The Tibetan Scroll Paintings, “Green Tara” And “Buddha Shakyamuni”

Tibetan scroll paintings are very beautiful to look at, but are even more interesting because of the intricate, artistic applications the paintings employ to showcase specific meanings. The composition found within the paintings “Green Tara” and “Buddha Shakyamuni” include the following figures : Central deity, Teacher(s), Entourage, and Protectors. Each of the figures, in both paintings, are composed with different colors and scale, to symbolize the hierarchy present between the central figures, Tara and Shakyamani, compared with the other figures in the paintings. The differences and similarities between both of these paintings also exemplify the different meanings and teachings both Tara and Shakyamuni are trying to show.

Not only is the central figure, Tara, much bigger in scale than the rest of the deities in the painting “Green Tara,” but also she is located right in the center. This represents her supreme importance over the rest of the deities. Tara is depicted as a young female with 21 deities around her. The deities are very small compared to Tara and to the flowers surrounding her lotus throne, which are red, orange, blue, and yellow. The rest of the deities around her don’t have flowers surrounding their seats, because flowers represent enlightenment, and Tara is the enlightened one in this painting. Her face is a golden color, and she holds one, white flower with blue hues, in each of her hands. In her right hand, she holds the stem of the flower with her palm open and her fingers downward. On the contrary, in her left hand, she is holding the stem of the flower with her fingers facing upward. Although both of her palms are open, her fingers are pointing in opposite directions, and her left hand appears to be touching her heart. This difference in where her fingers are pointing can symbolize her openness to receive blessings and the love she has for humanity.

While Tara is the dominant figure in the painting, there are 3 deities above her, which appear to be slightly bigger than the rest of the deities surrounding Tara. This represents the hierarchy present within the painting. The deity in the middle of the top register above Tara’s head is the Root Deity, representing Tara’s main teacher. The deity is the only one of the 3 upper deities who has a mandorla, a colored ring, around him. The color of the mandorla is orange, and he is the only deity to have a bright, golden halo around him. The rest of the deities have different colored halos and they aren’t of brightly colored golden. On the other sides of the root deity are two teachers who are also important.

However, since these two teachers aren’t the root deity, they are placed a little lower than the root deity and don’t have a mandorla around them. The deity on the left even appears to not be sitting in the lotus posture, showing these teachers have their own style and meanings they represent. Similarly, in the painting “Buddha Shakyamuni,” the Buddha doesn’t have a mandorla around him either. Shakyamuni also only has one root deity on top of his head. While he is sitting in lotus posture like Tara is, he is only holding on white flower in his right palm, with his left palm cupped upwards. While Tara’s palms were maroon colored, Shakyamuni’s palms appear to be a light pink color, which matches with the color of his root deity’s halo. While Tara’s orange halo color matches the mandorla of her root deity, her halo color is different from that of Shakyamuni’s. This pairing of halo and mandorla colors between the central figures and their root deities show the way in which they are connected to the upper realms.

In addition to the central figures appearing highly connected to the upper realms by color correlation and bigger scale, both of these paintings have two figures on the left and right sides of the central figures. In the “Green Tara,” her entourage is made up of a darker skinned figure and a lighter skinned figure. Both of these figures have the same color halo and mandorla. In a similar fashion, the painting “Buddha Shakyamuni” has an entourage where one figure is of a lighter skin color than the other. Also, both paintings have an entourage made up a woman and a man. While the entourage, in Tara’s painting, appear to be similar to each other, except for their skin color, the entourage in Shakyamuni’s painting have different colored snakes around them. The female figure, on the left of Shakyamuni, has a blue snake around her neck, and the male figure, on the right side, has a green snake around his neck.

Another clear difference between the paintings is the way in which the protectors are depicted. In Tara’s painting she has 9 protectors organized neatly with halos, colored circle around the top of the head, and mandorlas. While these protectors are seated in the lotus posture, with different colored snakes around their necks, there appears to be only one main protector in Shakyamuni’s painting, who is seated in lotus posture with an offering of different colored pebbles surrounding her. Similar to Tara’s tiara of flowers, this protector appears to also be wearing a tiara. The color of her halo is the same color as Shakyamuni’s halo symbolizing the connection Shakyamuni has with his protector at the lower register. Not only do both of the central figures differ in gender and overall color scheme, but they also differ in their gaze. Shakyamuni looks like he has his eyes half-way closed, while Tara’s eye are clearly visible. Another big difference between the paintings is the way in which Shakyamuni’s painting has people praying to a deity located in the lower, right hand register of the painting while Tara’s painting doesn’t have this. This only further shows the difference between the lower levels of being and higher deities placed above them.

Even though both of these paintings have clear differences in their scale and color correlations, both paintings use the landscape to show the visual division of hierarchies. Not only are Tara and Shakyamuni bigger in scale and centralized, but also the root deities are placed above their heads to represent what deities belong at the top of the hierarchy. At the sides of the central figures, the entourage is made up of a man and woman in both figures to represent a balance for the central figure. In addition, while the lower levels are made up of protectors in both paintings, Shakyamuni’s painting shows many beings who appear to be lost and searching for truth. On the other hand, Tara’s lower level deities are placed in an organized way at the bottom of the painting. These beings don’t seem lost but appear to be meditating and not wandering around everywhere as in Shakyamuni’s painting. Still, while both paintings differ in ways, they are both similar in the way they paint the levels in hierarchy clearly.

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