Chapter 9

The Arts of Tibet

The visible remains of Tibetan culture and its artefacts that have survived through the centuries from the earliest times are very few. Much has been destroyed by the ravages of recent history, but still, even though many of the illustrations in this book are otherwise inaccessible to the public, there remains a large selection of objects from this mystical culture in many of the world's art and ethnographic museums. The relatively few traders, pilgrims and explorers that visited Tibet over the centuries had to overcome the sheer physical difficulties of a hostile landscape, and, an even more hostile reception to outsiders from the Tibetans themselves. The Tibetans regarded these unwanted visitors as suspicious and threatening to their secluded way of life.

The prehistory of Tibet is based almost solely and essentially on objects and artefacts discovered in caves, remains of monasteries, and areas that were considered sacred to the worship of their religion

The idea of free artistic expression was entirely foreign to the Lamaist culture of Tibet. Art and craft were united in the service of a religious system which permeated the whole of life so that even the most mundane and utilitarian objects held some religious and spiritual imports.

Making things, anything at all, was an act of worship and therefore involved the subordination of the maker to an overriding tradition. This is why Tibetan arts and crafts were essentially anonymous: it is barely possible in Tibet, unlike other artistic traditions, to trace periods and styles and fashions or to be able to ascribe particular objects to an artist or a school. A conservatism of symbolism more rigid than the conservatism of China was imposed by a dogmatic theological control.

Since everything that was made, whether it was made for purposes ancillary to religious ritual or for domestic uses, fell within the same all-embracing context of religious belief, everything had to be made worthy of its dignity. Religious motivation affected standards of production in such a way that all production was artistic. Native craftsmanship was always dominated by the idea of deprivation. It was not undisciplined ornamentation or artistic licence run riot in the interest of embellishment for its own sake. Rather it was a rigid and sacred use of all expression in recondite and traditional symbolism. A totally involved system of dogma.

Outside influences followed the path of political and cultural penetration: Nepal, Kashmir, China, India and Central Asia all contributed importantly at various times to the development of Tibetan arts and crafts. Yet all these influences were absorbed in a distinctive and highly idiosyncratic symbolic style. Examples of utilitarian craftsmanship from Tibet are quite rare, partly because they were made from impermanent materials (wood, fabric, clay, etc) and partly because they were never preserved in museums or collection as art objects but were replaced when their purpose was served.

Ceremonial objects, items of public or private rituals, amulets and so on, have survived in greater numbers. Both are of interest as the supreme example of a craftsmanship which developed almost into modern times under complete theocratic control.


From the fifth century AD clay began to be imported in large quantities from India for the manufacture of pots. Tibetan wood is for the most part hard to carve and is vulnerable to the harsh weather conditions which prevail; clay pots were better adapted for containing foods and liquids and soon superseded the wooden bowl in certain contexts. But even in the attitude to clay the peculiarly religiously Tibetan mentality made itself felt.

Clay was regarded as a gift from the earth. Many designs found on clay vessels suggest that they were believed to have innate magical properties and that their use was reserved for certain substances only. The symbolic is more important than the ornamental function of decoration. Handles and other appendages were given magical and divine forms, imbuing them with the mystical power of icons. Generally the over-all shape was simple and entirely functional.

Votive tablets of clay mixed with incinerated human ashes, excreta, saliva, seeds and bits of sacred paper were used on shrines, to fill amulet boxes and in the construction of large figures of deities which adorned the numerous alcoves of the monasteries.

Clay was also used in the making of mould for the casting of bronze right into the twentieth century.


Owing to the ravages of time, deterioration from moisture, insects, etc, not a great deal of Tibetan woodwork remains. As already mentioned, native Tibetan woods were very hard and difficult to carve. India again came to the rescue by providing fine quality Sandalwood which was used mostly for the carving of sacred figures and for the interior and the exteriors of monastery decorations.

Window lintels of important houses had carved surfaces very similar to the exquisitely detailed engraving found on the sacred book covers. (See illustration Photo 14 -)

Along with the almost baroque exuberance of Tibetan ingenuity a certain sophisticated simplicity existed in the manufacture of furniture. An example of this is the folding table usually carried by a peripatetic lama, at which one squats to drink tea and participates in an elaborate ceremony. Three sides are hinged on wooden or metal pegs affixed to the outside of the tabletop's frame so that the whole contrivance can be folded up into a flat and easily portable shape. The third side is open so that the person seated at it can get as close as possible to the objects placed on the top.

On the whole, however, furniture was sparse. Corner cabinets rather similar to those of seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe were occasionally to be seen in the homes of nobility and elaborately carved altars were standard furniture in temples. Many architectural supports were richly carved with mythological motifs, but again owing to the appalling weather conditions these had very short lives.

Tibet had many carpenters or turners of wood who specialised in the manufacture of household utensils. A very high gloss called phortse was given to some wooden bowls and by the use of the seeds of a wild plant they were made heat resistant! When Tsampa, or buttered tea, was drunk from cups made of this material the taste was reputedly improved to a degree that bordered on ecstasy, perhaps something was also added to the tea that so lifted the imbiber's spirits to an ecstatic state.

The birch tree knot was considered a great luxury, as precious as gold, and very fine and delicate tea cups were made from this. Rosaries (malas) of 108 wooden beads were worn by most people around their wrists and necks and an occasional prayer wheel (see Photo 2) has been found with its central cylinder-barrel made from imported bamboo.


Fibres of grass, bark, wool, silk, cotton, goat and yak hair, together with metal threads, were woven by the Tibetans in a rich variety of processes which contrasted with the somewhat stereotyped techniques that prevailed in the other arts. In wealthy families the preparation and weaving of wool was usually the responsibility of servants. In poor household the man would spin wool and hair while tending his sheep and yaks; the women would wash, brush and comb the fibres and weave them on simple wooden looms. Vegetable dyes were available in a large variety of colours and were combined in strange and dazzling patterns. Appliqué needlework was a speciality for ritual and festive costumes, brocaded image covers, hats and even Thangkhas (See Photos 22 and 23). About the eight century AD Tibetan needlework was so popular that it was traded into China, and even so it seems, Japan, where it influenced local fashion.

Tailors in Tibet did not work in shops or factories but travelled with their equipment from house to house as their services were required and received room and board until the garments etc were completed. Tibetans had two styles of clothing, one for everyday wear and another for special occasions. Women wore richly coloured aprons either of wool or cotton. Both men and women wore waist-length skirts made from cotton or silk, trousers of treated sheep skin or fox skin and felt gowns tied at the waist with a platted sash. The nobility and rich dressed in expensive and brocaded silks and only in the late nineteenth century started wearing underclothes and shoes of European style.

Monks and other members of the ecclesiastic classes wore saffron robes of silk or cotton varying in quality or design according to rank.

During the Chinese Ming era (AD 1368-1644) small quantities of carpets and rugs were bought from Chinese merchants who visited Tibet along the roads of the Silk route by the monasteries and before long the nobility also began to use carpets in their homes. Skilled weavers imported from Persia brought with them their own designs and these were imaginatively amalgamated with traditional Tibetan designs to form elaborately beautiful patterns with a distinctive ethnic character.

The famous "peacock and dragon" carpet design obviously derived from both Arabic and Chinese sources, proved so popular that it was still being manufactured in the twentieth century.


The art of paper-making was introduced from China. A fine, strong paper produced from vegetable fibres superseded palm leaves imported from India, and the birch bark from the sparse forests of Tibet. Books consisted of stacks of loose fibrous leaves between carved wooden covers (See Photo 14) were bound with woven chords and wrapped in exquisitely embroidered fabrics. In the twentieth century, however, these beautifully made objects have virtually disappeared, craftsmanship being almost entirely displaced by machines.


Metal was the most important material of Tibetan craftsmanship both for religious and domestic purposes and a wide variety of metals were worked. Newars from Nepal (metal workers of the Banras class) brought their traditional skills to Tibet and the techniques were assimilated by the local craftsmen with consummate ability to produce some of the finest craftsmanship in metal that the world has known.

Bronze and copper were the materials employed in most cases. How easy is it to make a clear distinction between copper and bronze? Very little is known about the chemistry of the bronze and alloys used in casting. Sometimes identification of the ritual object can only be achieved by exact scientific analysis. The colour of the object is no reliable guide as it changes considerably when the objects have been kept in the open, buried or even sheltered in a monastery shrine-room.

The designations "copper" and "bronze" as used in Tibetan art, appear quite arbitrary and cannot properly form a sound bases for definition. The patination or coloured complexion of bronze varies quite considerably from the light powdery green of the much earlier pieces to the chocolate and much deeper browns of later periods. Not all figures were allowed to acquire a patina of their own, many were treated with exotic acids imported from India and China, others were lacquered and, of course, an abundant number were painted and gilded.

The figures were cast in mould, a technique popularly known as the cire-perdue technique or the lost-wax process. Roughly the method is as follows: The original subject is modelled in clay, then covered with a layer of wax on which the finished features are carved. At this stage layers of clay are applied until a desired thickness is attained. When the whole has dried, the image is turned upside down and the molten metal is poured. The wax melts and the metal takes its sculptured form. After a period of cooling the metal solidifies, the clay casing is smashed and the image removed. Because of the technique used each object is original and unique; that is, no duplicate casts can be taken. Incidentally, in the making of the mould, holes are left in it to allow the hot gasses to escape. If this were not so, the mould would explode.

With elaborate and intricate multi-armed images, the figure is cast in separate parts and at the very end of the casting procedure they are affixed to the main structure by use of carefully concealed pins or nail-like pegs. The figure is then ready for the steady hand and sharp eye of the master carver, who can, and often does, give it life.

When the moulding processes were completed, the figure would be sent to be gilded or painted and the skill of these craftsmen is no less than that of the sculptor. Many methods were utilised in the gilding procedure. One common practise was that of hammering on an incredibly thin sheet of gold foil, however, this was more common in early periods when a lot more time and care was taken with each piece. Later methods include a chemical process where, after treatment with various acids and mercury, the bronze was heated and the thin gold stuck to the surface of the metal permanently it could even be highly polished without danger of destroying the surface.

When the gilding process was over the figure was then painted, not the whole figure, but, depending on the family or emanation, just the colours on the face and hair. In this way the artist was able to capture the delicate eye-slits and features with a definite expression, with ruby red lips that even seemed moist. The hair was often blue (pacific) or red (fierce) and the hands, feet and robes can often be a stunning yellow-gold. Of course there are many variations of colour combination depending on geographic region and even the colours available to the craftsmen at the time of manufacture.

Over a period of time many items received countless coats of paint and instead of these layers being chipped and unsightly they seem to acquire a facial strength and personality, it being as though the ravages of time and history had brought a human experience to their aloof exterior.

The figures of the princely decorated Bodhissatvas would then be worked on by the dextrous hands of the stone chipper or setter, who studded and bejewelled the robes and regalia with precious and semi-precious stones of turquoise, coral, rock crystal and sometimes lapis, emeralds and rubies.

Bronze and copper were considered to be as pure as gold and were used almost exclusively in the manufacture of images of the various deities and of course the Buddha. Many of the objects which have survived were ritualistic in character. Monks' staves and wands of office, vajras, (thunderbolts), phurbas, (three edged triangular daggers for exorcising evil spirits) (See Photo 3 ), trisulas (tridents) and many other items were embellished with chasing and inlay work of a very high order. Metal objects of gold, silver, brass, iron, tin and gilded bronze were made for religious and domestic ceremonials: teapots, shrine boxes, telescopic trumpets, flageolets, alms boxes, prayer wheels, reliquaries, roof ornaments for house or temple, dishes, water vessels and ornate stands for human skulls that sometimes even contained animal blood (See Photo 16). The shapes (not the decoration) usually reflected the function of domestic articles.

Decoration often astounds both by its quality and by its quantity, embodying almost always a ritualistic and symbolic connotation. Among the most common motifs are the lotus flower, Makara (elephant monster), dragons and serpents, and the ubiquitous prayer Aum Mani Padme Hum (Sk) (Hail to the jewel in the lotus) written in ornate script. (See Glossary.)

Other ornaments' designs are a variety of sacred symbols, masses of complicated foliage and geometrical patters formed by studding with (already mentioned) gemstones. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, coloured glass of poor quality often took their place. Vessels often have intricately designed spouts in the form of fantastic heads of monsters springing from pot-bellied shapes. The jugs, teapots, ewers and other vessels are most typically Tibetan and can only amaze. Their extraordinary and sometimes horrific shapes speak of a culture cloaked in mystery and magic. Effective use is made of the contrasting colours of gold, silver, copper and brass in perforated and open-work plaques riveted on the body of the object. Sometimes one comes across an existing shape with poor ornamentation or vice versa, but in general, design and ornament are matched while the craftsmanship is meticulous and superb. The religious and totally spiritual outlook on manufacture of all kinds prohibited casual or slipshod workmanship.

Round his neck or attached to his ornate saddle the Tibetan male wore his amulet shrine box (gahu) made from a number of different metals ornamentally combined and always containing something sacred, i.e., prayers, human relics, seeds, etc. Sometimes the amulet boxes contained small metal images that had some prophylactic relevance to the owner of the box. The boxes themselves were intricately engraved or beaten and many had elaborate filigree work. (See Photos 15 and 20) Some of the most elaborate examples are to be found on the monumental sculpture within the monasteries. (It is worth mentioning at this point, a private collection of jewellery boxes published by Thames and Hudson called Gold Jewellery from Tibet and Nepal by Jane Casey Singer, London 1996. Some of the finest examples of Tibetan prayer box jewellery are illustrated in this book and will astound the uninitiated as to the superb skill of the Tibetan craftsman.)

On the flat roofs of most monasteries, at each of the four corners, were strange cone-shaped cylindrical constructions housing vast scrolls of block printed prayers whose sole function was to protect. Their quality and workmanship depended on the wealth of the temple. Made of gilt, bronze or copper, sometimes even of solid gold, these large and Baroque structures could be seen for miles. The main centres of metalwork were Kham, Derge and Lhasa.

Damascened ironwork from Derge is particularly rich in invention, especially in the popular crown-topped beer jugs. The rich embellishment of arabesque and foliage even on such everyday objects testifies to the ingrained Tibetan reverence for craftsmanship. The Tibetan metal-workers were adept at brazing, soldering, repousse, damascening, piercing, chasing and engraving. Engraving in particular has a long and honoured tradition in Tibet, as is shown by the few ancient works to be seen in museums and collections throughout the world. The engravings of convoluted dragons amid clouds of sculptured formations are a popular theme, which sounds typically Chinese; yet in the hands of the Tibetan craftsman it takes on a form which is unmistakably Tibetan.


Jewellery was an indispensable accessory for every Tibetan regardless of rank or station. At the end of their plaits women wore medallions set with turquoise or perhaps even an Indian rupee. Elongated gold or silver mounts framing turquoise or coral stones hung from the locks of hair on either side of the forehead. Men and women wore many rings of silver or gold, their whole surface crammed with religious and prophylactic chains.

Jewellery was both an adornment and a symbol of rank. A gold and turquoise hair-clip and a long cylindrical tear-drop earring were part of a government official's regalia. Crowns of intricate filigree adorned men and their sacred images. Walls of jewelled mosaic reflected colours unknown outside Tibet.

Although a certain sophistication may be lacking to Tibetan jewellery, the detailed workmanship was of such delicacy and elegance that comparison with anything else is virtually impossible.

Musical instruments

The music of Tibet was as mysterious as its temples and monasteries. The great Tibetan trumpet has frequently been mentioned. Many Tibetan musical instruments were borrowed from India and Nepal and of course China: flutes, trumpets, rattles, clappers, drums and bells.

But bells of various kinds and clashing bronze discs became peculiarly Tibetan. Recently, much has been made of the mysterious and beautiful sounds that are elicited from what are commonly called singing bowls (See Photo 18). Tibetan bowls are invariably round in shape with a flat rest and are made of gold, silver, copper and bronze or of the mystical eight precious metals, (an amalgam of a special formula of mixed metals concocted to appease the ears of gods).

These were used for offering water at the votive altar. For some reason when caressed with a stick of wood and flicked with a finger these objects produce a whining, astonishing resonance of reverberation. The sound is similar to the sound of a finger lightly drawn round the edge of a fine crystal glass. The vibratory sound cannot be taken lightly as the sound produced effects an amazing atmosphere that permeates the stillness with an almost breathless expectation. By holding the bowls close to the mouth and soundlessly ululating with the oral cavern, the notes bend and alter producing a sound quite like anything on earth (Ref. Singing Bowls of Tibet - Alain Presencer, 1981, Saydisc Records England.)

Although these bowls are found in Tibet and recently a colleague (Ref. D. Aschencaen) discovered a giant bowl being currently used to induce states of altered consciousness in a remote part of Tibet, there is some controversy as to their authenticity as a Tibetan musical instrument.

However, the author who plays and has studied the bowls over many decades has also researched thoroughly these amazing and mysterious instruments to discover via a communication from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's library of Tibetan works and archives in Dharamsala, India, that, and "It seems that singing bowls, although known in Tibet, are of Nepalese origin used by the Newaris of Nepal in the religious rites of Fire puja (burnt offerings) rites, now lost in the mist of antiquity." (Sonam Choephell, Private Letter 10 May 1985, Office of the Dalai Lama, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.)

Perhaps an end to this mystery? All musical instruments were used both in religious services and in orchestras whose major functions were religious. Craftsmanship and skill were lavished upon them. Bells were particularly important both to punctuate religious ceremonies and as musical instruments, and the Tibetans excelled in casting them. Small ankle bells were worn by dancers and used as charms and clapper bells were hung from the necks of animals. A small tulip-shaped bell called a Ghanta (Sk) or Drilbu (T) with the handle in the form of a head of prajnaparamita (symbol of wisdom) was held in the left hand of the Lama while he carried the thunderbolt called a vajra (Sk) or dorje (T) in his right hand.

Much use was made of a wide range of flattish metal disc-cymbals called dingsha (T) which were used primarily to exorcise spirits from the home where someone had recently died, although these disc-cymbals are used elsewhere in ritual as well. Small and large drums were often objects of exquisite craftsmanship. In the Victoria and Albert Museum in London there is a Lamaist drum with a beaten metal plate instead of a stretched membrane; the wooden frame is overlaid with brass and set with turquoises and corals. Trumpets were made from human femurs (kangling (T)) (See Photo 18) and double sided back to back human skull drums were called damaru (Sk) (See Photo 10) and were also used in necromantic rituals.

Butter sculpture

Butter has been moulded into fanciful shapes for centuries in Europe, but Tibet is perhaps the only country in which butter sculpture achieved the level of a minor art. The possibility of working in this medium was helped by the conditions. Yak butter contains many impurities, notably the hairs of the animal, and these hairs help to bind it together. Ground pigment was added, turning it into a kind of putty and making it more malleable. The cold climate helped and made it possible to exhibit the finished work even in the open air without danger of melting.

Bronze, calyx-shaped lamps filled with heaped-up butter and surmounted by a cotton wick were in common use for festive occasions and it has been suggested that the unmelted portion of the butter was shaped and thus gave rise to the practice of butter sculpture. However this may be, the practice was well established when it was first discovered and recorded by European observers. On the Feast of Flowers, which fell on the fifteenth day of the Tibetan year, 10 January on our reckoning, in 1845, two French missionaries, the Abbots Huc and Gabet, visited the butter sculpture display at the monastery of Kum Bum and left a graphic description of it.

The exhibition was held for one night only before the various temples in the town. The exhibits were brilliantly lit by innumerable lamps disposed on scaffolding and consisted of large low reliefs illustrating subjects drawn from Tibetan Buddhist mythology. Framing the larger sculptures were panels of animals, birds and flowers, while lines of smaller panels flanked the paths which led from one temple display to another. The smaller reliefs showed battles, hunts, scenes from nomadic life and views of the most celebrated monasteries in Tibet and Tartary.

Huc and his companion describe admiringly the faithfulness with which different racial types were portrayed and the technical skill with which the artists produced details such as the colour and texture of different types of fur!

Before the principal temple there was a puppet theatre in which foot-high figures made of butter, and representing a procession of lamas going to prayer, were moved across the stage before coloured decorations also of butter.

The butter sculptures were known as 'flowers' and Huc describes how they were moulded by sculptors who kept plunging their hands in cold water lest they should become too warm and melt the butter. This, he adds, was a fearful ordeal in the climate of Tibet. The sculptures were made from fresh butter by a team of twenty selected lamas, who took three months over the task. They began by kneading the butter with their hands in water to harden it and then, working to an over-all design prepared by the leading artist, who was required to furnish a new scheme of decoration every year, they each executed different sections of the reliefs. Finally the completed sculptures were handed over to the artist who coloured them. After they had gone on exhibition for a single night only, they were broken up and thrown into a ravine, where the remains were eaten by vultures.

Different monasteries would compete for the services of a particularly gifted sculptor, and he would have the task of completing two or more panels of reliefs. Yak butter soared in price as the time for the festival drew near, and 2,860 kilograms might be consumed in a single festival!

Once the reliefs had been moulded on to dark wood panels, the panels themselves would be lashed on pyramidal frameworks, which in turn were supported by stout parts driven into the ground. As the sculptures stood out in the white glare of the innumerable butter-oil lamps the view was one of dazzling magnificence.


Thangkas are Lamaist religious scroll paintings. (See Photos 22 and 23) Thangkas were hung in temples or on family altars, carried as banners in religious processions, or used for purposes of meditation. The iconography was often extremely complicated and in some cases required the help of an adept to explain. Some thangkas such as those containing a mandala (mystic diagram) (see Glossary), were believed to have quasi-magical powers and to be a means of conjuring up deities or supernatural beings.

Thangkas were first made in the tenth century, but few of those surviving are earlier than the sixteenth century. They were painted on canvas primed with a mixture of chalk and size. The skeleton of the complicated design was first pounded upon the smooth surface, or even printed from wood blocks, and the outlines were gone over in red or black ink. The work of the colourist, not usually identical with the printer, then began. His skill consisted to a large extent in his knowledge of pigments and of their symbolic significance. The colorants used were water soluble vegetable and mineral pigments prepared with size (a glutinous substance). The author once watched a thangka artist in Shigatse use his own infected phelgm to thicken his paint.

Every complicated and beautiful method of gilding and gold paining was also used. Great store was set by rich and brilliant colours and these have often survived well despite the hard wear on the canvas. After the work of the colourist was finished a draughtsman would draw in with a micro-thin brush the fine details, outlines of the figures, faces, eyes, etc. The painting was then ready for mounting.

The canvas might first be framed in a narrow border of silk, usually read and yellow to symbolise the power emanating from it. This was then enclosed in a much larger piece of embroidered or figured silk and hung from a bamboo stick. At the bottom of the Thangka was a double hem into which was inserted a heavier wooden stick, which served to hold the painting taut when it was hung and round which it was rolled when not in use. About a third of the way down the silk frame, a thin cord was threaded through and wound round the top stick in order that the painting could be hung from it. In the lower border was usually inserted a panel of differently coloured silk embroidered with lotus, dragon or serpent symbols; it was called the 'door' (thang-gso (T)) or the 'root' (rtsa-ba (T)). Finally a thin veil of silk gauze was hung from the top border, covering the whole Thangka. When not in use the Thangka and veil were rolled up from the bottom over the heavy pole.

Early Thangkas in good condition are eagerly sought by collectors and museums. However many of the examples of these paintings are of much later manufacture and some painted in aniline colours are much less desirable. In writing about painting and sculpture too it is important to underline the fact that Tibetan art is a scared and a commissioned art; that is, the artists duty was to create the images to rigid and iconographic specifications laid down by the doctrine of their religion. To deviate in any way from these laws was considered a sacrilege.

The canonical dimensions of the figures were taught to the artist at a very early stage in his training. Each god had to conform to an exact plan. One of the documented design patterns showing an elaborate network of exact geometric lines is faithfully reproduced in Singh's book Himalayan Art, London 1968.

All physical proportions of the body had to be scrupulously exact, very little artistic licence being allowed. Nevertheless the intrinsic creativity of the artist was such that with so many individual deities and some sources state the existence of over three thousand, it was possible with great tact and subtlety to diverge from stylistic discipline that so rigidly restricted expression.

The tantric figures, influenced so much by Indian art, display contracts of unbelievable scope. Huge misshapen beasts, their many heads and faces contorted with rage, possessing, in some cases, hundreds of arms and legs crush demons mercilessly beneath their massive feet.

They copulate in uninhibited horrific ecstasy with their female energies (saktis) who also possess menacing proportions. Weapons and ritual implements of ingenious evil are wielded in nightmare fashion, with chains and belts swinging violently from side to side in breathless, manic rhythms.

The non-tantric figures on the other hands seem to possess a cold and delicate beauty unlike that of any other culture, their placid and meditative exteriors wear the reassuring expressions of having found the answer to life's painful existence. With the golden light of truth in their eyes, the smooth semiclad bodies seem to proclaim a spiritual strength which the muscular superman of ancient Greece never possessed.

Commissions came from powerful merchants wishing to acquire merit from the creation of their guardian or favourite image, or from Abbots, Lamas and monasteries wishing to gain prestige by adding to the huge pantheon they already owned. It is very difficult to enumerate the many other human qualities which motivated the creation of so many of these items, but suffice it to say that during the productive heydays of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries enough figures were cast and paintings painted to fill most monasteries to capacity. The author remembers when being shown a store room at a very important monastery in Central Tibet, under a pile of disused and filthy rags were stacked piles of Thangkas and countless bronze and wood images.

Perhaps they were hidden from the powers that have tried so hard to suppress the Tibetan religion. The Lamaist art of Tibet, is by any standard, an exceptional chapter in the history of human creature endeavour. To appreciate it beyond the purely aesthetic one needs to appreciate the rooted, deeply rooted, significance of religion in Tibetan culture. The study of Tibetan art is both an enchanting revelation and enigma. Its pure sculptural qualities rank with anything produced in the West, or the East for that matter, but the enigma lies in the many thousands of deities included under the umbrella of the Lamaist-Buddhist pantheon which to many seem unending. There is quite an extensive literature from Western sources on the subject by both scholars and travellers, but a complete picture may not emerge until the once vast remaining monastic libraries in Tibet are opened up or saved from further destruction and this seems highly improbable in the present circumstances.