De'u dmar dge bshes's method of compounding colours

De'u dmar dge bshes's method of compounding colours
lac-dye brown, vermilion brown and the colours derived from them


The eighth chapter of De'u dmar dge bshes's Kun gsal tshon gyi las rim focuses on the theories of colour compositions. The author De'u dmar dge bshes bstan 'dzin Phun tshogs (1725-?) was one of the most influential Tibetan art theorists in 18th century Tibet.

In the last IATS conference at Leiden, I had an occasion to read the paper titled "some inconsistencies of colour composition technique in Tibet" in which I considered some inconsistencies of several art theorists: Bo dong Pan chen Phyogs las rnam rgyal (1375-1451), Mi pham rgya mtsho (1846-1912), Rong tha Blo bzang rgya mtsho (1863-1917) and De'u dmar dge bshes. But at that time I couldn't use Tibetan original manuscript of De'u dmar dge bshes's Kun gsal tshon gyi las rim

In 2001, at the Conference in Beijing also, I had opportunity to read the paper focused on "Chemical reactions of colour compositions". At the conference of Beijing, soon after my reading, Prof. Luo Bingfeng 羅秉芬(the translater of Chinese translation of Kun gsel tshon gyi las rim) kindly gave me the original Tibetan manuscript which she used for her translation work. A few weeks later, Dr. Gene Smith who was also attending the Beijing conference kindly sent me xerox copy of De'u dmar dge bshe's other work on Medicine titled as Gso rig gces btus rin chen phren ba which actually includes the parallel passages with whole of eighth chapter of Kun gsal tshon gyi las rim. I acknowledge them here for their generous help and guidance.

In this paper, I will examine the various kinds of brown colours and those colours derived from them. We can find many kinds of brown colour in Tibetan Thangka painting. Among these, there are two fundamental brown colours which become the components of various derivations: (type a) "Lac-dye brown" which is produced by mixing skag (lac-dye) and dkar (=ka rag: white chalk) and (type b) "vermilion brown" which is produced by mixing mtshal (vermilion) and dkar.

Type a) Lac-dye brown

First of all let us consider De'u dmar dge bshes's explanation of na ros colours. In the last IATS conference in Leiden, I quoted De'u dmar dge bshes's account of na ros , but only the Chinese translation:

白色和朱砂色相混則成那若,由于其中的咽脂紅的比例不同分大,中,小三色,故成為紅棕色,棕色,浅棕色 [Luo:53-54]

The very first part of quotation can be translated like this:"Mixing white colour and vermilion colour makes na ros. "

The term朱砂色(zhu-sha-se) in the Chinese translation may cause misunderstanding. The word should be translated as 咽脂色 yan-zhi-se (lac-dye colour). Original Tibetan text is as follows:

Dkar dang rgya tshos bsres pa la/na ros zhes bya de la yang/skag shad che 'bring chung ba'i mthus/na dmar na ros na dkar 'byung/

When white chalk (dkar) is mixed with lac-dye (rgya tshos), then na ros is produced. Depending on the proportion of lac-dye added, by addition of large, medium and small amounts respectively, na dmar (reddish brown), na ros (brown) and na dkar (whitish brown) are produced.

De'u dmar dge bshes's method here is clear. Bo don pan chen also gives the following account about the difference between this lac-dye brown and vermilion brown:

/Khyad par na ros dmar skya ni/ /dkar po dangs pa'i rigs rnam la/ /rgya skyegs snan pa na ros yin/ ......./ /dmar skya mtshal dkar legs par snan/..[Bo dong: 257-5]

[The] difference between na ros and dmar skya :If lac-dye is added to a pure white, then na ros (lac-dye brown) is obtained. By mixing vermilion and white well, then dmar skya (vermilion pink, lit. light red) is produced.

According to him, na ros belongs to Lac-dye derivations, and dmar skya belongs to vermilion derivations.

Let us examine Rong tha's theory next. According to Rong tha's method, na ros is obtained by mixing dkar and skag, but he explains dmar skya is also created in the same way. Rong tha says:

/dkar la skag bsres na ros te//dmar skya legs par 'byung ba yin/ [Rong tha: 183]

If lac-dye is added to white, then na ros or dmar skya is produced well.

And he also says:

dkar la li chu bsres ser skya/mtshal chu bsres pas mtshal skya yin/ [Rong tha: 183]

If diluted minium is mixed with white chalk, ser skya (light yellow ) is produced.By mixing diluted vermirilon with it, mtshal skya (light vermilion colour) is produced.

The dmar skya of Rong tha seems to be different from his mtshal skya. Bo dong's account quoted above implies that there had existed a controversy on this point since Bo dong's time.

Various compounded colours are derived from this fundamental na ros colour. De'u dmar dge bshes explains mon kha (mauve) and mchin kha (liver colour) as follows:

na ros dag la rams(ram) bsres pas/mon kha zhes bya rams(ram) shed kyis/mon dkar mon dngos(sngon) mon nag gsum/

When rams (indigo) is added to the pure na ros, the colour called mon kha is obtained. Depending on the proportion of indigo added,three kinds: mon dkar (whitish mauve), mon dngos (standard mauve) and mon nag (dark mauve)can be obtained.

And he continues:

zhib par na ros rigs gsum po/ re rer rams(ram) shes che 'bring chung/byas pas mon kha(kha'i) rigs dgu 'byung/

More precisely, to each three kinds of na ros,by addition of large, medium and small amounts of indigo respectively, nine kinds of mon kha are produced.

As for this subdivision of mon kha, the Chinese translation counts nine colours aside from three kinds of basic mon kha:

因藍定比例多少不同而成栗米色(28), 土鶏冠花色(29),青見子色(30); 再細分棕色可分三種,各自加藍定比例不同又大,中,小三種,故可分為九種蓼子草色(31-39)</

I do not understand how this translation reached this number(result). I think it should be the nine colours of mon kha contain three kinds which are described just before it.</

Here again, let us refer back to Rong tha's system. Rong tha explains about mon kha and mchin kha as following:

/na ros rams bsres mon kha dang//de la cher bsres mon sngon zer/If indigo is added to na ros, mon kha (mauve) is produced.

If indigo predominates in the above mixture, mon sngon (blue mauve) is obtained.

Rong tha's mon sngon (blue mauve) seems to be almost same as De'u dmar dge bshes's mon nag (dark mauve).

/mon kha ser skya bsres mchin kha//dkar shas che ba mchin skya'o//mchin kha skag bsres mchin smug zer/[Rong tha: 183]

If ser skya (light yellow: diluted minium plus white calk) is mixed with mon kha , then mchin kha (liver colour) is produced. If white chalk predominates in the above mixture,mchin skya (light liver colour) is obtained.If skag (lac-dye) is mixed with mchin kha, it is called mchin smug (maroonish liver colour).

His way of producing mchin skya is not clear for me. Let us see De'u dmar dge bshes's explanation about mon ser and mchin kha next. Both of them are made from mon kha:

mon khar ser bsres mon ser zer/mon khar ser skya bsres pa la/mchin kha zhes 'byung mon dkar la/sbyar bas mchin skya mon nag la/sbyar ba de la mchin nag 'byung/

If yellow colour is added to mon kha, it is called mon ser.If ser skya (light yellow) is added to mon kha, then mchin kha (liver colour) is produced. By adding ser skya to mon dkar, mchin skya (light liver colour) is produced. And adding it to mon nag, mchin nag (dark liver colour) is produced.

His way of producing mchin skya, [standard] mchin kha and mchin nag can be understood clearly. According to Rong tha's method, the way to get mchin skya was explained as simply by adding white chalk to a type of mon kha. But De'u dmar dge bshes's way is not so simple as Rong tha says. Although it is finally determined by white quantity, mchin skya can not be obtained simply by adding white chalk as Rong tha says.

As for the subdivision of mcin kha, De'u dmar dge bshes says:

mchin khar skag bsnan mchin smug 'byung/mchin khar bab la cung zad bsre/mchin ser mchin pa nad btab mdog/na ros nang du snag tsha'i g-ya'/bsres pas (la) mchin nag rigs gcig 'byung/

If lac-dye is added to mchin kha, then mchin smug (maroonish liver colour) is produced. If small amount of orpiment is added to mchin kha, then mchin ser (yellowish liver colour) is produced. That is just like the complexion of a jaundiced patient. If a fragment of the carbon is added in na ros, then another kind of mchin nag is produced.

Though it is a form of a hearsay, De'u dmar dge bshes reports that there are other derivative colours from lac-dye brown:

Rgya mthing na ros dang sbyar na/mchang ('chang) kha zhes zer de bzhin du/bar mthing na ros sbyor (sbyar) ba la/mchang ('chang) chen zhes su bshad pa thos/

If one mixed rgya mthin (Indian azurite?) and na ros, then a colour called mchang kha (pale agate colour) is produced. Similarly, if one mixed bar mthin (lit. medium azurite) and na ros, then a colour called mchang chen (great pale agate colour) is produced. I heard these from others.

It is strange that Chinese translation gave this colour's name as 死屍色 si-shi-se (dead body colour). It seems to be that the word of 'chang kha (variant for mchang kha in her Ms.) produced this translation. I do not understand what bar mthin means. I think it means azurite grained in a middle size.

Type b) Vermilion brown

When we mixed vermilion with white, not only dmar skya but the colour called "human flesh colour (mi sha)" can also be obtained. They are used for painting of person's flesh. De'u dmar dge bshes's explanation of mi sha colours is as follows:

dkar po bzhi gsum dag la ni/mtshal gyi kha bun bzhi cha gcig/bsres la mi sha kha sha dkar/mtshal (tshal) kha cung bskyed sha dmar 'ong/

If one mixed 3/4 of white chalk and 1/4 of vermilion, then mi sha kha (human flesh colour) or sha dkar (light flesh colour) is obtained. When vermilion is increased a little, sha dmar (reddish flesh colour) is obtained.

Rong tha's method is as follows:

/dkar la mtshal skya bsres sha dkar//de las che bsres sha dmar zer//de la ram bsres rgan sha'I mdog//sha dmar ba bla bsnan sha ser/

When mtshal skya (light vermilion colour) is added on white chalk, sha dkar (light flesh colour) is produced. Mixing a larger proportion of it, then sha dmar (reddish flesh colour) is produced.If indigo is added on it, rgan sha'I mdog (the colour of an old person's flesh) is produced.Reddish flesh colour plus orpiment makes sha ser (yellowish flesh colour).

Rong tha clearly says that sha ser (yellowish flesh colour) can be obtained by mixing sha dmar (reddish flesh colour) with ba bla (orpiment). On this point, De'u dmar dge bshes's method is different. De'u dmar dge bshes explains as follows:

mi sha kha [la] bab la chung/bsres pas sha ser 'byung ba'am/li khri 'am (lam) ni ldong ros rnams/(dang/)bsnan pas sha ser rigs gnyis 'byung/

If orpiment is added to human flesh colour, then a yellowish flesh colour is obtained. If minium or realgar is added to human flesh colour, then another two kinds of yellowish flesh colour are produced.

Above mentioned Rong tha's rgan sha'I mdog (the colour of an old person's flesh) was not clear whether it is produced by mixing sha dkar and rams or by mixing sha dmar and rams. De'u dmar dge bshes explains that we can get the colour called rgas sha (old flesh) by mixing sha dkar and rams. He says:

mi sha kha la tshon rams(ram) bsres/rgas sha drang srong bram ze'i mdog/zhes (ces) bya'i sha sngon 'byung bar snang/

If indigo is added to the human flesh colour, a pale flesh colour which is named as an old person's flesh colour i.e. Hindu Brahmin's colour is created.

He also produces the colour called sha smug (maroonish flesh colour) from sha dkar (light flesh colour).

mi sha kha la smug po bsnan (bsre)/de la sha smug 'byung ba yin/ (ni/)mi sha kha la mon kha bsre/de (der) yang sha smug rigs gcig 'byung/

If smug po (maroon colour) is added to human flesh colour, then sha smug (maroonish flesh colour) is obtained. If mon kha (mauve) is added to human flesh colour, then also another kind of maroonish flesh colour is produced.

As mentioned above, by mixing various colour materials with sha dkar, we can produce sha ser, sha sngon, sha dkar and others. On the other hand, by mixing sngo skya (light blue: azurite plus white chalk) with above sha dmar, sha dkar, sha ser etc., a series of animal flesh colours or beast colours are created:

sha dmar nang du sngo skya cung/bsres la (B. pas) ri dwags mdog zhes (B. ces) smra/ri kha de yang sha dkar dang/sha dmar sha ser sha smug dang/sha sngon (B. kha) sbyar gzhi' (B. bzhi'i) khyad par las/ri dkar ri dmar ri ser dang/ri smug ri sngon lnga ru ヤbyung/

It is said that if a little sngo skya (light blue) is added to sha dmar, then ri dwags mdog (the colour of animal flesh) can be obtained. Among this series of ri kha (the colours of animal flesh), depending on the different basic colours to which sngo skya is added to: sha dkar, sha dmar, sha ser, sha smug and sha sngon, five different colours: ri dkar (whitish animal flesh), ri dmar (reddish animal flesh), ri ser (yellowish animal flesh), ri smug (maroonish animal flesh) and ri sngon (blueish animal flesh colour) are produced.

Aside from mi sha and mtshal skya, there exists one more colour which is produced by mixing white chalk with vermilion. This colour is called glo kha (lit. lung colour) . About this glo kha (lung colour), we find the following account in the De'u dmar dge bshes's Kun gsal tshon gyi las rim:

mtshal skya nang du dkar chung (B. cung) bsres (B. bsre)dmar skya glo ba'I kha dog ヤbyung/

If white chalk is added in small amount to mtshal skya (light vermilion colour), then dmar skya (vermilion pink) the colour of the lung is produced.

The subdivisions of glo kha are:

glo khar ser bsres glo ser te/glo ba nad kyis btab pa'i mdog/glo kha (ba) dkar shas che ba la/dmar skya lcags bsreg mdog ces zer/glo khar skag bsnan glo smug dang/rams (ram) bsnan glo sngon rnag gyos mdog/

When yellow colour is added to glo kha, glo ser (yellowish lung colour) or the lung colour of consumption patient is produced.If glo kha in which white chalk predominates, a colour which is called dmar skya (vermilion pink) of burned iron colour is produced. If lac-dye is added to glo kha, then glo smug (maroonish lung colour) is produced.When indigo is added to glo kha, glo sngon (blueish lung colour) or the colour of a festering lung is obtained.

This way of producing glo kha by De'u dmar dge bshes is obviously different from Mi pham's way. Mi pham says:

(dmar skya mnyam pa) glo kha (rams nyung na)zi hung skag gi bu [Mi pham: 88]

This passage might be understood as dmar skya (vermilion pink) plus skag (lac-dye) in equal amount makes glo kha. According to Mi pham's system, lung colour is a son of skag. This means Mi pham considered glo kha to be a derivation of lac-dye brown at any rate.