The Golden Buddha
Life of the Buddha, 1800s. Tibet. Colors and gold on canvas, silk, wood;
Overall: 48 x 31 1/2 in. Denver Art Museum: Guthrie-Goodwin Collection, 1962.305
Life of the Buddha (Twelve Deeds)
Color and gold on canvas
This nineteenth-century Tibetan scroll displays several scenes from the life of the Buddha. Painted scrolls like this are called thangkas in Tibetan and are framed by silk and brocade borders with wooden dowels inserted at the top and bottom for ease in rolling and transportation. Shakyamuni Buddha dominates the center of the painting and touches the earth in bhumisparsha mudra, a gesture indicating his call to the earth to witness his enlightenment. He is surrounded by depictions of his life events. These “Twelve Deeds” of the Buddha are common in Tibetan art. In this painting, these scenes are found in a clockwise pattern starting at the top with an image of an elephant flying through the air. As an incarnation of a bodhisattva, the elephant descends from a celestial realm and enters the womb of Maya, thus beginning the life cycle of the Buddha with the first two of the Twelve Deeds. The remaining scenes are arrayed in a clockwise pattern: the Buddha’s birth, life at court, the four sights, leaving the palace, becoming an ascetic, meditation under the Bodhi tree, battling the demons of Mara, calling the earth to witness his enlightenment, the first teaching, and finally, the death of the Buddha at the top left.