23 October, 2017 | Musée Cernuschi, Paris | Conference Website |
“Writing the Visual: Translating Buddha Life Narratives from Text into Image”
Accounts of the Buddha’s final life are ubiquitous across Tibet. Among the most extensive and striking are those in the corpus of literary and visual materials produced by the seventeenth-century luminary Tāranātha Kunga Nyingpo (1575–1634) at his monastic seat of Phuntsokling in the Tibetan region of Tsang. This paper examines Tāranātha’s work entitled A Painting Manual for the Hundred Acts of the Teacher, Lord of Śākyas (Ston pa shākya dbang po’i mdzad brgya pa’i bris yig). This text exemplifies the little-studied genre of Tibetan writing known as the painting manual (bris yig). In it, Tāranātha self-consciously bridges two sets of Buddha vitae: his literary narrative in 125 chapters called The Sun of Faith (Dad pa’i nyin byed) and the narrative murals executed in his monastery’s second floor gallery, covering some 150 square meters, referred to as “the Boundless Design” (bkod pa mtha’ yas). The Painting Manual covers the entire arc of the Buddha’s life story as told in The Sun of Faith, and contains scene-by-scene instructions for its visual representation. Tāranātha’s Painting Manual thus inhabits in a middle ground between two media, effectively translating text into image. This paper draws on Tāranātha’s writings and a complete site documentation of his murals to reflect upon the different kinds of stories textual and visual narratives tell, and how the translation from one to the other leads to new forms of storied knowledge.