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Body and Spirit: Tibetan Medical Paintings Closes July 17

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Don’t miss this rare view of aspects of traditional Tibetan medicine in exquisite paintings from a set in the Museum’s collections, based on illustrations from the late 17th century. On view in the Audubon Gallery on the fourth floor, these hand-painted reproductions provide a unique and rich illustrated history of early medical knowledge and procedures in Tibet, as Laila Williamson, curator of Body and Spirit, explains in this video:


The 64 paintings on display are believed to be among only a handful of such sets in existence. Each of them was painstakingly reproduced by hand in the late 1990s by Romio Shrestha, a Nepalese artist, and his students, who followed the Tibetan tradition of copying older paintings, basing their work on two published sets of medical tangkas likely painted in the early 1900s that were copies of the original set. The originals were created in the late 1600s to illustrate the Blue Beryl, an important commentary on the classic Tibetan medical text, The Four Tantras.

The Blue Beryl was written by Sangye Gyatso, regent to the Fifth Dalai Lama, who commissioned the original paintings for use as teaching aids in the medical school he founded in Lhasa, Tibet. The causes, diagnostic techniques, and treatments of illness, as well as human anatomy, are represented in nearly 8,000 extraordinarily detailed images painted on canvas using vegetable and mineral dyes. The fate of the original paintings is unknown; Shrestha based his work on published sources.

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