In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Buddhist Art and Architecture in Tibet

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Architecture
  • Historical Background and Tibetan Stylistics
  • Artistic Practice
  • Early Tibetan Art and Architecture
  • Sino-Tibetan Art and Architecture
  • Central Tibet and Tsang, 13th–17th Centuries
  • The Period of the Ganden Podrang
  • Eastern Tibetan Art After the 17th Century
  • Modern Tibet Art

Buddhism Buddhist Art and Architecture in Tibet
David Gray
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 September 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 September 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0013


Fifty years ago, Tibetan art and architecture were fields in an early stage of development in the West. Early Western knowledge of Tibetan art and architecture was largely due to the pioneering work of early 20th-century scholars such as Giuseppe Tucci, Joseph Hackin, and Alice Getty. These fields have developed significantly over the past few decades, for multiple reasons. These reasons include general growth in interest in Tibetan culture and religion following the Chinese occupation of Tibet, and in the Tibetan diaspora, from the 1950s onward. The Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s in China led to the destruction of a tremendous amount of Tibetan art and architecture, and to the displacement within China of many works of Tibetan art that were not destroyed. However, the opening of China to the outside world in the post-Mao era led to the growing availability of Tibetan art on international art markets and gave foreign scholars access to surviving architectural monuments. This has led to a rapid growth in the understanding of Tibetan art history and stylistics. This work has been undertaken by a wide range of scholars, from North America and Europe, as well as Japan and India. More recently, there has also been considerable growth in scholarship within China by Tibetan and Han Chinese scholars.

General Overviews

A number of works have been published that cover the art and architecture of Tibet in a general fashion. Heller 1999 provides an excellent historical overview; this work is reviewed by Luczanits 2001. Chayet 1994 provides a concise introduction to Tibetan art and architecture. Zla-ba-tshe-ring and Yan 2000 provides a comprehensive survey of Tibetan art from the prehistoric period to the mid-20th century in five volumes, including numerous high-quality images. The accompanying explanatory text is somewhat idiosyncratic, in part due to a spotty English translation. In addition, a commitment to the Chinese political ideology resulted in the awkward imposition of Chinese dynastic timelines on Tibet’s history. The first volume covers the period from the Paleolithic period through the collapse of the Tibetan empire in the mid-9th century; the second volume continues up through the 13th century. The third volume covers the Yuan and Ming dynastic periods, and the fourth volume looks at the Qing dynastic period. The final volume continues the Qing period and concludes with the Republican period. Macdonald and Imaeda 1977 contains essays on a broad range of topics across the fields of Tibetan art and architecture. Reynolds, et al. 1999 is a catalogue that surveys a broad range of Tibetan art, both religious and secular. Fisher 1997 is an inexpensive introduction that is designed for undergraduate courses on the topic.

  • Chayet, Anne. Art et archéologie du Tibet. Manuels d’Archéologie d’Extrême-Orient. Paris: Picard, 1994.

    Survey of Tibetan art and architecture from the Paleolithic through early modern periods. Numerous photographs, floor plans, and line drawings. Most of the illustrations are in black and white, rather than color.

  • Fisher, Robert E. Art of Tibet. London: Thames & Hudson, 1997.

    Introduction to Tibetan art. While focusing on painting and sculpture, it also covers, to a lesser degree, architecture and material culture. Its unusually low price makes it an ideal text for undergraduate courses. Contains 180 illustrations, slightly over half of which are in color.

  • Heller, Amy. Tibetan Art: Tracing the Development of Spiritual Ideals and Art in Tibet 600–2000A.D. Milan: Jaca, 1999.

    Provides what is arguably the best introduction to Tibetan art history, ranging from the early imperial period through the present day. Essays introducing various periods of Tibetan art are nicely balanced with black-and-white and color illustrations.

  • Luczanits, Christian. “Methodological Comments Regarding Recent Research on Tibetan Art.” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens 45 (2001): 125–145.

    Review of, and methodological reflection based upon Heller 1999.

  • Macdonald, Ariane, and Yoshiro Imaeda. Essais sur l’art du Tibet. Paris: Librairie d’Amérique et d’Orient, 1977.

    Essays in French and English covering a variety of topics, including essays on Tibetan texts, ritual objects, early costumes, and temple architecture.

  • Reynolds, Valrae, Janet Gyatso, Amy Heller, and Dan Martin. From the Sacred Realm: Treasures of Tibetan Art from the Newark Museum. New York: Prestel, 1999.

    Catalogue of an exhibition that featured an extensive range of Tibetan art. In addition to the paintings and sculptures found in most exhibitions, it also included a wide range of items from Tibetan material culture such as brocade garments and decorative and ceremonial objects. Includes informative introductory essays by the authors.

  • Zla-ba-tshe-ring and Yan Zhongyi. Precious Deposits: Historical Relics of Tibet, China. 5 vols. Translated by Xiang Hongjia. Beijing, China: Morning Glory, 2000.

    Five volumes provide an extensive survey of Tibetan art from the Paleolithic period through the mid-20th century. Focuses largely on religious art, including paintings and sculpture, but also covers a considerable amount of material culture, such as furniture, textiles, printed and handwritten texts, and religious and secular objects.

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