Long History

Alchi cillage and the Alchi Choskhor monastery and the Lower Ladakh heritage related to it have been at the core of my research from an early stage. I first visited it in 1990 and met both Rob Linrothe and Jaroslav Poncar there. At this first research trip I also lost all my photography due to a faulty camera. Both the meetings there and the faulty camera have been defining moments for my research work.

Alchi Monastery Complete

An exciting project I took up with Jaroslav Poncar is the publication of all temples of Alchi in a two volume publication, one volume of which will be republishing the Sumtsek volume Jaro did with Roger Goepper. The publication will be of smaller size and in two volumes. The Sumtsek volume will be adjusted to fit the overall concept and updated if necessary.

An Early Kanjur Temple

A survey of the architecture of the Alchi monastic complex, undertaken in cooperation with a team of TU-Graz led by Holger Neuwirth, not only revealed a more refined chronology of the buildings comprising the Main Temple's complex, but also the existence of an early tower like structure to house the teachings of the Buddha.

Alchi Sumtseg Reconsidered

This short article summarises recent research results on the oldest monuments within the Alchi monastic complex, in Ladakh, India. It focuses on some aspects of the Three-Storeyed Temple or Sumtseg (gSum-brtsegs) as well as on some paintings of the two oldest gateway stupas within the complex, which are termed Great Chörten (or Great Stūpa) and Small Chörten (or Small Stūpa). The main purpose of this publication is to make the arguments that support the later chronology of Alchi monastery available to Ladakhi scholars.

  • Luczanits, Christian. 2007. Alchi Sumtseg Reconsidered. In Recent Research on Ladakh 2007, eds. John Bray, and Nawang Tsering Shakspo, 61-72. Leh, Ladakh: J&K Academy for Art, Culture & Languages – International Association for Ladakh Studies.


Alchi and the Drigungpa School of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Teacher Depiction in the Small Chörten of Alchi

This study focuses on the teacher depiction in the Tashi Gomang Chörten (called Small Stūpa in the article) in the monastic complex (chos 'khor) of Alchi, Ladakh, and compares it to a number of roughly contemporaneous Central Tibetan scroll paintings (thangka) that can be attributed to the Drigung school. These comparisons also allow for identifying most of the figures represented at Alchi despite their unusual style and underdeveloped iconography.

  • Luczanits, Christian. 2006. Alchi and the Drigungpa School of Tibetan Buddhism: the Teacher Depiction in the Small Chörten at Alchi. In Mei shou wan nian - Long Life Without End. Festschrift in Honor of Roger Goepper, eds. Jeong-hee Lee-Kalisch, Antje Papist-Matsuo, and Willibald Veit, 181-196. Frankfurt a. M.: Peter Lang.


The Early Buddhist Heritage of Ladakh Reconsidered

This article reviews the earliest Buddhist heritage of Ladakh under consideration that, following Goepper's work, the Alchi group of monuments has to be attributed to a considerably later date than previously assumed. It also collects support for Goepper's attribution published since his original article of 1990.

The now fairly secure attribution of the Alchi group of monuments, although shifting the dates by only one century, have wide repercussions on our perception of the earliest Ladakhi Buddhist heritage and its development up to the establishment the Ladakhi kingdom in the late 15th century. More important, the new date allows for linking the early Buddhist heritage in Ladakh to the general development of Tibetan Buddhism and thus also has major effects on our understanding of early Tibetan art-history.

On a more general level, this study outlines the most crucial historic issues and questions from an art historian’s and archaeologist’s point of view with the help of a few exemplary monuments and objects the historical value of which has in many instances not yet been exploited. Obviously, it is neither intended to cover all the relevant material in detail, which would provide enough substance for a whole book and some years of additional research, nor can the examples used be discussed in all their relevance.

Besides Alchi the article discusses the ◊ 11th century ruin near Basgo, the ◊ Teacher Chörten at Lamayuru, the teaching Buddha stele near the Changspa chörten, the stone steles (rdo ring) of Shey village and its surrounding, the wooden sculptures of Sumda Chen, the wooden fragments of ◊ Lachuse temple and the carved doorframe with deity bearing medallions between chörten at Sumda Chung. The latter door is now at Hemis.

  • Luczanits, Christian. 2005. The Early Buddhist Heritage of Ladakh Reconsidered. In Ladakhi Histories. Local and Regional Perspectives, ed. John Bray, 9, 65-96. Leiden: Brill.


Art-Historical Aspects of Dating Tibetan Art

In a paper on the art-historical aspects of dating Tibetan Art at an international symposium on 'Dating Tibetan Art' organized by the Kunsthaus Lempertz, Cologne, 17th–18th November 2001, I focused on three examples demonstrating the possibilities and restrictions of art historical methods to date Tibetan art on the bases of the documentation available to me as a researcher.

The most fascinating example by means of which the possibilities of art historical methods, i.e. in this case a study of composition, style and iconography, can be demonstrated is found in the early 13th-century paintings of Alchi monastery in Ladakh, India. By focusing on the iconography of certain teacher depictions attributable to ca. 1200 this example demonstrates the interrelationship of completely different painting styles to each other once they are brought together by historical circumstances. The observations derived from these paintings completely support Roger Goepper’s dating of the Alchi Sumtsek (gSum brtsegs) to 1200 at the earliest. In fact, the conclusions these examples imply are also of major relevance for the history of Tibetan Buddhism in general, as it appears that the Alchi murals were created at a turning point in the history of Tibetan art and Buddhism.

The second example studies the lineage depictions of three paintings which were once part of a larger thangka series, among them painting No. 960 in the Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale in Rome. Each painting is dominated by the central pair of Cakrasaṃvara (’Khor lo bde mchog) embracing his partner Vajravārahī (rDo rje phag mo). As an analysis of the lineages shows, this series is dedicated to the different teachings of Cakrasaṃvara which one practitioner of the Sakyapa (Sa skya pa) school received from different teachers. The analysis further allows the conclusion that the paintings are to be attributed to the second quarter of the 15th century at the earliest. Sadly the plates for this section have been mixed up.

The pictures and captions of the three Cakrasamvara Thangkas are mixed up, the error going back to the picture index I sent to the publisher, where the figure numbers were applied to the wrong files. Sadly it was not realized that the captions do not conform with the file names.
Figure 7 is actually the picture published as Fig. 9.
Figure 8 is actually the picture published as Fig. 7.
Figure 9 is actually the picture published as Fig. 8.

The third example demonstrates the limitations of stylistic analysis for dating a painting when close comparisons are lacking. Consequently, at the current stage of my research, it is not possible to propose a narrow date for the Thangka No. 950 of the Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale in Rome even if its iconography is clear (it represents a mandala of Vajrapāṇi Mahācakra/Phyag na rdo rje ’Khor lo chen po).

The Alchi example is also included in a revised version of this article contributed to David Jackson's catalogue Mirror of the Buddha. While two of the three examples in the original article are republished here, the focus of the study has been altered toward the early siddha, hierarch, and lineage depictions documented in these examples and what they tell about their early usage.

The new example is an extremely informative small thangka painting that once was part of the Jucker collection and is now in the Rubin Museum of Art. This small thangka (22.5 x 18 cm) with six main teachers, published earlier by Hugo E. Kreijger (Tibetan Painting (London: Serindia Publications, 2001), no. 18) and David Jackson (Patron and Painter, 39–42 and fig. 3.1) is being discussed in detail here. An appendix contains all inscriptions on this painting, including a quote of six verses of the conclusion of the Pratimokṣasūtra.

  • Luczanits, Christian. 2003. Art-historical aspects of dating Tibetan art. In Dating Tibetan Art. Essays on the Possibilities and Impossibilities of Chronology from the Lempertz Symposium, Cologne, ed. Ingrid Kreide-Damani, 3, 25-57. Wiesbaden: Ludwig Reichert Verlag.
  • Luczanits, Christian. 2011. Siddhas, Hierarchs, and Lineages: Three Examples for Dating Tibetan Art. In Mirror of the Buddha, Early Portraits from Tibet, ed. David Paul Jackson, 170-203, 214. New York: Rubin Museum of Art.


The Life of the Buddha in the Sumtsek

The figure of Maitreya in the somewhat larger niche of the back wall of the Alchi Sumtsek, which is the main image of the temple, has its dhotī decorated with scenes of a Buddha's last life. In this article all scenes are considered to establish their narrative sequence. On the basis of this identification, the article also briefly discusses the distribution of the scenes on the dhotī as well as the principal characteristics of the narrative means employed. Subsequently the basic narrative sources and philosophical ideas which have influenced this particular depiction are considered. Of course, it is impossible to present more than a general discussion in such an article. The analysis of the dhotī indicates that the life of the Buddha depicted on the image of Maitreya is a complex representation of late Indian Buddhist ideas which would deserve a detailed monograph in its own right.

Since publication I have reattributed the identification of scene 13, as the person receiving the child is male and not, as I had previously assumed, female. The scene obviously represents the child being received by his father, King Śuddhodhana, rather than the entrusting of the child to Māyā’s sister Gautami.

While it was only possible to publish a restricted number of scenes in the article, in the ◊ Maitreya's Dhoti gallery almost all the medallions are represented and briefly identified. Jaroslav Poncar undertook the complete documentation between 1981 and 1991 and generously provided them for publication and the website.

◊ Maitreya's Dhoti

  • Luczanits, Christian. 1999. The Life of the Buddha in the Sumtsek. Orientations 30, no. 1: 30-39.