Thomas Laird. Murals of Tibet. Taschen

Thomas Laird, Robert Thurman, Heather Stoddard, Jakob Winkler, Shigeru Ban
Hardcover volume signed by the Dalai Lama, 50 x 70 cm (19.7 x 27.6 in.), 498 pages, 6 fold-outs, with a modular bookstand designed by Shigeru Ban, plus an illustrated 528-page scholarly companion book
€ 10,000
SUMO-sized Collector’s Edition limited to 998 copies (No. 81–998), each signed by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, with a bookstand designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect and humanitarian pioneer Shigeru Ban.
Also available as two Art Editions limited to 40 copies each (No. 1–80), both with a print.

© Thomas Laird, 2018/ TASCHEN, Murals of Tibet.

I am particularly happy and honored to present in the pages of The Mirror, the magazine of the International Dzogchen Community, the work ‘Murals of Tibet’ by Thomas Laird, produced by the well-known publishing house of Benedikt Taschen in a limited SUMO-size collector’s edition, that illustrates and describes more than 200 of the most important murals of Tibetan Buddhist culture still visible in Tibet today.

The opus is made up of a hard cover volume with exceptional dimensions of 50cm x 70cm, with 498 pages of magnificent color plates in life-size resolution including 6 fold-outs. The volume is furnished with a modular bookstand designed by Shigeru Ban and completed by a scholarly companion hardcover volume of 528 pages. The companion book, 25cm x35cm, is an illustrated volume with texts and descriptions of the murals.

From the visual and textual point of view this magnum opus will be an authoritative testimony to the most important murals of Tibet that have survived the ravages of historical events and the passage of time. It will become a reference book for all those who are interested in Tibetan art and culture. The choice of collaborators, from the authors to the designers to the producers, reveals the care taken to present a work that is not only striking externally but also offers a unique editorial aspect.

The work, ‘Murals of Tibet’, make it possible for those who are unable to visit Tibet to admire these marvelous masterpieces in brilliant color and with an extraordinary resolution using the most up to date photographic/printing techniques. This particular collector’s edition was produced in just 998 copies, each of which has been signed by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama, making the work an important document from the historical point of view for all those fortunate to have a copy.

Observing this magnum opus may be considered a real “joy for the eyes” as Tibetans traditionally say when they look at a beautiful object. In addition to their exceptional beauty, many of the murals may even put a cause for liberation through seeing them.

The accompanying volume contains a visual index useful for fast and easy identification and consultation of the murals. The text starts with a short introduction by the author and well-known photographer, Thomas Laird, introducing and presenting the motivation and history of this particular work. After having had success with his previous work, ‘The Story of Tibet, Conversations with the Dalai Lama’ and his photos of the Lukhang in Ian Baker’s ‘The Dalai Lama’s Secret Temple’, many Tibetan masters suggested that he extend his research to other famous examples of historical iconography. ‘Murals of Tibet’ is the result of this request.

Excellent Generosity Green Tara (15th century).
Gyantse Kumbum, Chapel 2 S b, © Thomas Laird, 2018/TASCHEN, Murals of Tibet

The introduction is followed by the contribution of famous writer and Tibetan scholar Robert Thurman with a vast narration of the legendary origins of Tibet and the Tibetan people as well as in-depth research on the main themes of the murals and their underlying spiritual significance. Following this, one of the most famous Tibetan art historians, Heather Stoddard, author of most of the site descriptions and captions of the murals, introduces the origins and style of Tibetan art and discusses different architectonical styles from Nepal to China.

The book takes the reader on a virtual journey to the most holy sites of Tibet starting from the precious 11th century murals of Drathang monastery, and moving on to Samye, founded by Padmasambhava in the 8th century, Jokhang, the most sacred place in Tibet, the Potala, former residence of the Dalai Lamas, the Lukhang, a retreat place behind the Potala, Drepung and Nechung, Gonkar Chode, Gyantse Kumbum, Gyantse Palkor Chode, Shalu, Sakya, Jonang Puntsoling, and Tsaparang and Toling.

Of particular interest is the section dedicated to the Lukhang Temple, written by Jakob Winkler, a long time student of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, in which he describes the unique murals of this temple, a direct result of a vision of Tibet’s great 5th and 6th Dalai Lamas. Among these magnificent murals he describes in detail the Shambala wall, illustrating the origin of the Kalachakra Teachings, and, most importantly, the largest mural in the Lukhang, the Path of Dzogchen, dedicated to a specific cycle of Dzogchen teaching rediscovered by Pema Lingpa. Worthy of note in this section is the description of Tibetan yogis performing yantra or trulkhor exercises. There are also details of yogis doing advanced meditation and secret Dzogchen practices.

Tibetan Yoga, detail from the Path of Dzogchen (18th century).
Lukhang, 3rd floor, north wall, © Thomas Laird, 2018/TASCHEN, Murals of Tibet

Among the well-known sites in Tibet, the book also presents a description of Jonang Puntsoling, founded at the beginning of the 17th century by the famous scholar Taranatha. The surviving murals at Puntsoling reflect his unique vision and include a beautiful yellow figure of Manjushri surrounded by Saraswati, Maitreya, and white Vairochana. This is an example of how, for more than 1000 years, Tibetan iconographers have remained true to the colors and proportions inherited from the Buddhist canons of India.

The book concludes by describing Tsaparang, the famous lost mountain fortress in Western Tibet, and nearby Toling Temple, both rediscovered by the well-known Italian Tibetologist, Giuseppe Tucci, in the 1930s. In 1949 Tucci’s ‘Tibetan Painted Scrolls’ was the most famous first complete work, at the time, on Tibetan art. That work was done in a unique and particularly grand style, consisting of two large volumes and an enormous box containing black and white and a few color reproductions of thangkas. An exceptional publication at the time. Thomas Laird’s ‘Murals of Tibet’ follows in the footsteps of this magnus opus, presenting this enchanting and beautiful work, an authentic legacy of Tibetan art and culture for this new millennium. May this priceless work become available to a wider public in the future with a compact edition.

Giorgio Dallorto


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