Nicholas Roerich Estate Museum in Izvara
Nicholas Roerich
Estate Museum
in Izvara


Tibetan Art

As is usual in many countries, objects brought into a country by foreign travelers are considered to be of heavenly origin and a sacred meaning is attached to them… Maybe the excavation of ancient burial places in Tibet could afford a solution to this question, which is almost unmentioned in literature, but to which such importance is attached in Tibet itself. Already the unprecedented high prices and the specially designed imitations indicate what attention the local population gives to the dzi beads.

In the technical tradition it is very interesting to trace the same methods which are characteristic of the medieval Ikon paintings which were used until recent times by the professional Russian rustic Ikon painters. Watching the work of lama Ikon painters, I recognized a method of work completely like the work of the Russian provincial Ikon painters. In the same way the wood or canvas is prepared. In the same manner the “levkas”— that is chalk and glue—is prepared for the background. Similarly is the prepared wood and canvas polished by a shell or horn. In the same way is the stencil transferred and colored with very fine brushes. The only difference is that the Russian Ikon painters cover the Ikon with oil varnish. They carefully preserve the formula of this varnish and are proud of the durability of the work. Russian Ikon painters often have manuscripts in script about the technique of Ikons and these are sometimes written in a secret symbolical code. Such manuscripts are preserved in families and only handed down from father to son. Of such manuals I have never heard in Tibet. One more resemblance between Tibetan and Russian Ikon painters: Both chant during their work and often the Russian Ikon painters intone the old chants about Yosephat Tzare-vitch, not suspecting that they sing of the Blessed Buddha. Yosephat is the altered pronunciation of Bodhisattva.

Another circumstance indicated the close influence of China on the art of Tibet. The best Tibetan Ikon painters come from Kham. The best images are molded in Derge, and there also the printing is best. Tibetans themselves say that they cannot imitate the perfection of the Chinese work. The Maharajah of Sikhim possesses a group of very colorful Tankas of apparent Chinese quality. Certainly the series must be from Kham. Some good works are also to be found in Tashi lhunpo as befitted the residence of the spiritual head of Tibet.

One may find, however, many touching details of ikon-ographic work. There still is left to us the interest in ikonography and the symbolism of images! To study it is highly instructive. You may find many forgotten occult laws. Pay attention to how the auras are depicted. Look on the magic mirrors. Study the meaning of the magic circle of Mandala of Norbu-rinpoche. But the contemporary artists know less of these laws. The Kalachakra, brought from India by Atticha, is repeated without application to life. But “will everything which has fallen—not rise again?” In the future there will be a new Tibetan people ..iid a Tibetan art. But when and how?

“With fire is the space filled. Already the lightning of Kalki Avatar—predestined Maitreya—flashes upon the horizon.”

The regeneration of Tibet will come. There were moments when after cataclysms the consciousness was awakened in full vigor by these explosions of spiritual accumulations. Entire vivid epochs were created. Some people may still remain immovable, devouring raw meat, losing their teeth from scurvy, from an unhealthy life and rotting in unchanged germ-ridden skins. In Lhassa it is temporarily forbidden to have electric lights on the streets. Moving pictures are forbidden. In all Tibet the laity is forbidden to shave its hair and has again been ordered to garb itself in long khalats, and in Tibetan-Chinese shoes. All these symptoms are not ordained by the Blessed One. Because each teaching foresees the possession of possibilities and the evolutionary movement. These Tibetan forbiddances are revealing mechanical superstitious worship of the past. But we shall ask: “Which past do you worship? To which of your grandfathers do you wish to pay homage?” In retrogression one can go back even to the inarticulate sounds of his forefathers. The past is good as long as it does not impede the future. We love and value all the beauty and charm of the past. We confirm that “from the stones of the past may be erected the steps of the future.” But from the stones, let us lay out the complete majestic steps of new beauty and knowledge. And what can evolve, if the death of the past has occurred and the future is forbidden?

* * *

But from where shall Tibet now accept the teachings? Yet in the midnight, into the tent a lama comes and cautiously peering about, speaks of the purification of the entire teaching. Such lamas do not live in Lhassa but on the heights.

Out of the desert distances a rider rushes from unknown friends. He whispers friendly advice—arranges his gold-woven kaftan and disappears into the twilight of the desert.

Whence art thou, messenger? Whence is thy smile?

Shekar Dzong

Museum Address: 188414, Izvara Village, Volosovo District, Leningrad Region, Russia.
Phones: +7-813-73-73-273 (group tours); Phone/Fax +7-813-73-73-298 (general)
Museum Director: Cherkasova Olga Anatolievna E-mail: