Stories of Previous Lives of the Buddha

18th century

Rubin Museum of Art

Rubin Museum of Art
New York, United States

Tales of Buddha Shakyamuni's past lives (jataka) are some of the most well-known narratives in Himalayan culture and are often presented in a series of paintings, with each painting depicting a part of the collection of stories. Presented as small vignettes, these narrative scenes are usually arranged around a central image of the Buddha and visually separated by landscape elements. The traditional set of 34 tales, which was later expanded to 108, includes the stories of the Buddha's previous lives as a bodhisattva, king, merchant, and animal. For example, the scenes in the upper-right corner of this painting depict the story of when the Buddha, in his life as an elephant, saved a group of starving wanderers in the forest by sacrificing his body, hurling himself over a ledge for their sustenance.


  • Title: Stories of Previous Lives of the Buddha
  • Date: 18th century
  • Date Created: 18th century
  • Physical Dimensions: 36 1/4 x 25 5/8 in.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Rubin Museum of Art, C2004.20.1
  • Medium: Pigments on cloth
  • Place of Creation: Tibet
  • Exhibition History: Rubin Museum of Art, "Gateway to Himalayan Art" (07/23/10 - 07/25/11; 07/17/13 - 06/02/14), Rubin Museum of Art, "What is it? Himalayan Art" (06/29/06 - 09/23/08)

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