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.
Tibetan art quick links
and architecture have been almost entirely religious in character (see
Tibetan Buddhism). The art of Tibetan Lamaism retains strong elements
drawn from the forms of both Hinduism and Buddhism in India and Nepal,
and was later influenced by the arts of China. In architecture, the
chorten, or Tibetan stupa, was derived from Indian prototypes and was
composed of one or more square bases, a square balcony, a bulbous dome,
and a mast upholding umbrellas, surmounted by a flame finial. Tibet is
famed for its gigantic monastery-cities, which house thousands of monks.
The one at Tashi Lumpo, built in the 15th cent., is the headquarters
for the Tashi Lama. A labyrinthian complex, it is composed of long
streets of cells, which surround courtyards.
For more than a
thousand years, Tibetan artists have played a key role in the cultural
life of Tibet. From designs for painted furniture to elaborate murals in
religious buildings, their efforts have permeated virtually every facet
of life on the Tibetan plateau. The vast majority of surviving artworks
created before the mid-20th century are dedicated to the depiction of
religious subjects, for the most part being distemper on cloth or
murals. They were commissioned by religious establishments or by pious
individuals for use within the practice of Tibetan Buddhism and were
manufactured in large workshops by uncredited artists. These works not
only document spiritual concepts but also demonstrate the vitality of
Tibetan aesthetics over the centuries in terms of the
cross-fertilisation of stylistic influences from other Chinese,
Nepalese, and Indian styles.
The visible remains of Tibetan Art
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.