Monasteries of Mustang
December 27, 2003 4:24 PM   Subscribe

A restoration project has been underway since 1998 to restore the 15th-century Tibetan Buddhist monastery wall paintings of Lo Monthang, a city in the kingdom of Mustang in northwest Nepal. The results have been very impressive. Mustang is also home to some amazing cave temples.
posted by homunculus (12 comments total)
See also this thread on the Lukhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet.

The Asia Times had three interesting articles on Tibet this week: "Tibet and the Olympic factor," "The tale of two Karmapas," and "Tibetan Buddhism the Western way."
posted by homunculus at 4:28 PM on December 27, 2003

Great links, thanks homunculus. It brings back memories of several similar temples and caves with beautiful fresoes, on and off the beaten track, I saw in the western Himalayas (maybe a FPP is due here). These frescoes can survive for hundreds of years in the extremely dry climate, but as one of the article notes, can be heavily damaged by one rain storm.
posted by carter at 4:35 PM on December 27, 2003

Restoring any Buddhist art is so hilarious. Isn't one of the central messages of the religion the passage and impermanence of all things?
posted by rocketman at 4:37 PM on December 27, 2003


*high-fives plep*
posted by homunculus at 4:39 PM on December 27, 2003

Whoa, you too, eh? Congratulations, homunculus!
posted by carter at 4:50 PM on December 27, 2003

This troubles me after having heard some convincing arguments against recent restoration practices by James Beck of Columbia University and the organization ArtWatch. Their before and after pictures of the Mona Lisa and Sistine chapel are rather disappointing.

Looking at the before and after on the Mustang paintings, the blues don't look as dark as I am under the impression that they should after restoration. I don't really know what shades the colors really are supposed to be because I am not an expert trained in this artistry, but I know from teachers that the colors are extremely important in aiding in the visualization practices. I am sure the lamas in Mustang oversaw the progression of this project though.

I wonder if these paintings would be less susceptible to the damage the Italian works were subjected to because the pigments are made from stone.

Just some thoughts about it. I'll have to check this program out.
posted by mblandi at 4:58 PM on December 27, 2003

Isn't one of the central messages of the religion the passage and impermanence of all things?

Sure, but that doesn't necessarily lead to nihilism. If everything is in a state of constant transition, then the murals are in flux regardless of whether they are being destroyed or restored. Buddhism styles itself as being ultimately practical, so the question of what action to take towards the murals is a question of what is the most skillfull and helps guide more people out of suffering (or at least that's how I understand it.)

Anyway, I'm not a Buddhist but I do love these murals, so I'm glad they're doing it.
posted by homunculus at 5:18 PM on December 27, 2003

Isn't one of the central messages of the religion the passage and impermanence of all things?

rocketman: Yes, in theory, but in practice Buddhism ranges in its attachment to attachment. In terms of imagery, this ranges from emptiness of Zen through to the rampant iconography of Tibetan Buddhism.

[Aside: When some of the first Catholic missionaries to Lhasa sent back reports to the Vatican on what they had found - elaborate iconographies and pantheons of saints, hierarchs in tall mitre-shaped caps, incense drenched ceremonies, large monastic orders that were huge feudal land-holders and political powers, etc., etc. - the Vatican assumed that they had stumbled across some kind of inverted version of high Catholicism; and these early accounts were apparently placed on the Vatican's Index Librorum Prohibitorum.]

Anyway, with regard to images, in Tibetan Buddhism the creation of an image is seen as a work of piety, in that all properly/piously created images are representations of the Buddha, images which in turn have the ability to grant grace to all beings trapped in existence, just by those beings coming into the presence of such images. In other words, by creating an image, you are helping others to escape their suffering.

So I guess any form of image creation is good, including restoration. And at a guess I would say therefore that the monks see the restored versions as *new* paintings with new salvic powers, rather than restorations of old paintings. In my experience it's only western historians and collector types who see them as old things preserved.

homunculus: I've seen similar thousand year old frescoes 'restored' with poster paints brought from the bazaar; so I'm glad these are being restored this way too.

IANAB either, BTW.
posted by carter at 5:39 PM on December 27, 2003


Debate about restoration of Western works (like M's "David") have grabbed the headlines recently, but this is a little different, given the religious components.

Since Tibetan Buddhists have always been prone to bright colors, I'd think they'd approve of this restoration... although, as mblandi points out, maybe the new versions should be as bright and vivid as the colors used in Tibetan Buddhist visual-meditations, which is what their sacred art is all about.
posted by kozad at 6:15 PM on December 27, 2003

and these early accounts were apparently placed on the Vatican's Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

well you'll have no trouble linking to it then, will you ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:43 PM on December 27, 2003

[this is good] - thanks homunculus.

posted by plep at 4:00 AM on December 28, 2003

hot damn, homunculus ...200 posts heh? Are you and plep in collusion?

Check it out: 200 posts. Excellent quality. Smart, substantive contributions. Friendly. Good-natured. Snark-proof personality. Coincidence? I think not!

Give me some of whatever it is you are guys are smoking.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:28 AM on December 28, 2003

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