Style of Editions

The examination of the characteristic stylistic features mainly focuses on the study of the various elements of the style of editions. This includes the investigation of:

  1. Front page;
  2. Layout;
  3. Ductus;
  4. Orthographic peculiarities;
  5. Woodcut illustrations.

The project focuses particularly on front page, layout and woodcut illustrations.

Title page

Usually title pages of Gung thang prints have very similar and characteristic drawn frames. They may vary from a simple to a more elaborated drawing, which may differ even in xylographs produced at the same printing house. The drawn frame is a peculiar characteristic of xylographs printed in this area, although it is also possible to find Gung thang prints with a simple title page. For what I know, this characteristic drawn frame of the majority of Gung thang prints is not present in any xylograph printed outside this area. This is a peculiar feature of Mang yul Gung thang prints, which was used at least in the 16th century.

Title pages of Gung thang prints have been examined with the aim of understanding whether the different elaborations of drawings could be associated with a certain artist or a certain printing house. Thanks to the collaboration with Dr. Filippo Lunardo, three typologies of drawings for title pages have been identified. Each typology presents variations starting from a simple drawing to more elaborate ones. A description of typologies with all variations is provided here.

Typologies of Title Pages

Typology 1

Title inscribed in a simple rectangular frame.

Vol. 707, Tucci Tibetan Collection, IsIAO, Italy, The Eightieth Life-story of Buddha Śākyamuni written by Āryaśūra, Brag dkar rta so (South-Western Tibet) 1541 or 1553. Photograph by L&C Service
Example of title page, typology 1, variation b: Vol. 707, Tucci Tibetan Collection, IsIAO, Italy, The Eightieth Life-story of Buddha Śākyamuni written by Āryaśūra, Brag dkar rta so (South-Western Tibet), 1541 or 1553.
Photograph by L&C Service
  • Variation 1a: title inscribed in a rectangular frame consisting of two simple black lines with a simple base of lotus petals.
  • Variation 1b: rectangular frame composed by an external thick line and an internal simple one.
  • Variation 1b1: rectangular frame composed by an external thick line and an internal simple one. The frame is inscribed into a bigger one which almost covers the entire folio. This bigger frame has an external thick line and an internal simple line. Both sides of the bigger frame have two columns – the former of which is bigger than the latter.
  • Variation 1c: the title frame is composed by a simple line, an internal one and another thick line. This frame is inscribed in a rectangular bigger one which almost covers the entire folio. This bigger frame has an external thick line and an internal simple line. Both sides of the bigger frame have two columns – the former of which is bigger than the latter.
  • Variation 1d: rectangular frame composed by two simple lines.
  • Variation 1e: rectangular frame composed by a single thick line. It exhibits an arch in the middle of the upper side.

Typology 2

Title inscribed in a frame which exhibits phytomorphic patterns and a circular shape in the upper side in the centre, which may have plant elements or jewels surrounded by flames. Both sides of the frame may have two further decorations (plant elements with different decorations in the centre).

Vol. 1089/2, Tucci Tibetan Collection, IsIAO, Italy, Mi la ras pa's Six Vajra Songs, Brag dkar rta so (South-Western Tibet) 1550 Photograph by L&C Service
Example of title page, typology 2, variation c: Vol. 1089/2, Tucci Tibetan Collection, IsIAO, Italy, Mi la ras pa’s Six Vajra Songs, Brag dkar rta so (South-Western Tibet) 1550.
Photograph by L&C Service
Vol. 709/3, Tucci Tibetan Collection, IsIAO, Italy, Nam mkha' rdo rje's Spiritual Songs, Glang phug (Lan 'de Valley, South-Western Tibet) 1554. Photograph by L&C Service
Example of title page, typology 2, variation d: Vol. 709/3, Tucci Tibetan Collection, IsIAO, Italy, Nam mkha’ rdo rje’s Spiritual Songs, Glang phug (Lan ‘de Valley, South-Western Tibet) 1554.
Photograph by L&C Service
  • Variation 2a: inside the floral frame there is a rectangular frame composed by a thick external line and a double simple line. A base of lotus is drawn underneath. The title frame is inscribed in a rectangular bigger frame which almost covers the entire folio. This bigger frame has four simple lines. Both sides of the bigger frame exhibits two columns and a floral decoration that covers the four corners of the internal line.
  • Variation 2b: inside the floral frame there is a rectangular frame composed by a single thick line.
  • Variation 2c: it exhibits a double simple line inside the phytomorphic frame.
  • Variation 2d: it exhibits an external thick line and a simple internal line inside the floral frame. The title frame is inscribed in a rectangular bigger frame which almost covers the entire folio. This bigger frame has an external thick line and an internal simple line. Both sides of the bigger frame have two columns – the former of which is bigger than the latter – and a floral decoration that covers the four corners of the internal simple line.
  • Variation 2e: it exhibits three lines, the central of which is thick, inside the floral frame.
  • Variation 2e1: it exhibits three lines, the central of which is thick and undoubled with a central empty space, inside the floral frame. This frame is inscribed in a rectangular bigger one which almost covers the entire folio. This bigger frame has an external thick line and an internal simple line. Both sides of the bigger frame have two columns – the former of which is bigger than the latter – and a floral decoration that covers the four corners of the internal simple line.

Typology 3

Title inscribed in a frame which is similar to the second typology, but it exhibits less plant decorations. This frame is placed upon a throne which is composed by two elements: the upper element presents lotus petals facing down; the lower element exhibits a sort of frame or platform which may have more or less elaborated decorations. Both sides of the frame may exhibit two further decorations (plant elements with different ornaments in the centre).

Vol. 657/6, Tucci Tibetan Collection, IsIAO, Italy, Second Part of the Biography of lHa btsun Rin chen rnam rgyal, Brag dkar rta so (South-Western Tibet), 16th century (not before 1557). Photograph by L&C Service
Example of title page, typology 3: Vol. 657/6, Tucci Tibetan Collection, IsIAO, Italy, Second Part of the Biography of lHa btsun Rin chen rnam rgyal, Brag dkar rta so (South-Western Tibet), 16th century (not before 1557).
Photograph by L&C Service
  • Variation 3a: it exhibits at least three lines, the central of which is thick, inside the floral frame.

The results of this investigation will be uploaded soon.

Layout

Mang yul Gung thang prints exhibit a simple layout. Both writing frame (the drawn frame containing the written part)  and mise en page are very similar.

Most xylographs have 7 lines. Apparently only prints produced at gNas (near sKyid sgrong, Mang yul) may have 8 lines. The different number of lines might be one of the characteristic features that slightly vary among Gung thang prints. Another hypothesis might be that a few features changed to some extent over time. This is currently under investigation, but the number of extant xylographs from gNas is limited. These xylographs appear to have a different size as well. They are considerably bigger than those coming from other printing houses located within the kingdom. The average size of most Gung thang xylographs is around 46-48 x 7-9cm. Prints from gNas examined so far measure around 64-67 x 11cm. Xylographs from Chab rom phug (near the village of Rud, further south of Kun gsal sGang po che) appear to have distinct dimensions as well. The average size of the examined prints is 31 x 7,5-8cm. Nevertheless, again the number of extant xylographs from this printing house is still limited.

Thanks to the collaboration with the AHRC project Transforming Technologies and Buddhist Book Culture, a measurement tool for xylographs has been build. This allows us to understand whether Tibetan used standardised criteria for the mise en page. It is possible indeed to automatically measure the distance between two points.

The result of this investigation will be uploaded soon.

Woodcut illustrations

For information on this subject click here.