Tibet, various hierarchs (3)

15th century, Tibet? (labelled ‘Ming Dynasty’), Karmapa, bronze, private collection, photo on Christie’s, London  .

This teacher dressed in full monastic attire holds a long-life vase in both hands. He wears a lotus hat with a sun-and-moon symbol and a half-vajra finial.

16th century, Tibet, Karmapa, copper alloy with silver inlay, cold gold and polychromy, private collection, photo Origine Expert  .

A younger man with a piercing gaze, holding a vajra sceptre and a long-life vase.

Circa 16th century, Tibet, Gelug lama, polychrome black stone, private collection, photo by Bonhams, Images of Devotion 2019.

We have seen a few teachers with a flat cap, traditionally worn by translators. Although we cannot see it very well, Bonhams inform us that the hat is yellow, which identifies him as a gelugpa lama.

16th-17th century, Tibet, Panchen Lama, probably Chokyi Gyaltsen, copper alloy with silver and copper inlay, cold gold and pigment, private collection, photo on Bonhams, London

This deified lama holds the stem of lotuses that support the hilt of a sword to his right and a manuscript topped with a pearl to his left.

Undated (circa 16th century), Tibet, Tsang province atelier, the third dalai lama, Sonam Gyatso, copper alloy, private collection, photo on Himalayan Art Resources .

18th century, Tibet, The second (or fifth?) Panchen Lama, Lobsang Yeshe, gilt bronze, at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (USA).

Tibet, lamas and their hands (3)

16th-17th century, Tibet, Nyingmapa Lama, copper alloy with silver inlay, private collection, photo on Sotheby’s.

This teacher has the piercing gaze, the sun-and-moon symbol at the front of his lotus hat, the goatee and the position of the hands associated with Padmasambhava. However, he wears monastic garments (that leave his right arm uncovered) and his headgear includes folded lappets and a half-vajra finial, not a vulture feather. The position of his left fingers suggests he may have held a skull cup or a bowl.

15th century, Tibet, lama, copper alloy with traces of gilding, private collection, published on HAR .

A rare sculpture of an elderly teacher dressed in full monastic garb including a meditation cloak, seated on cushion covered with an animal skin (lion according to the Himalayan Art Resources website) and a blanket, atop a stepped plinth decorated with two lions and an upright vajra sceptre. His right hand does the gesture of debate, the other may have held a book.

16th century, Tibet, lama, bronze (brass), private collection, photo by Christie’s.

A lama with long hair at the back and thick curls at the front, seated on an antelope skin atop a lotus base decorated with a chased pattern, his legs not quite locked. His outer robe, made of silk embroidered with a floral design, is worn low down to display the elegant knot of his belt. The left hand does the gesture of supreme generosity.

16th century, Tibet, lama, gilt bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo on Millon .

This teacher, seated in the vajra position, does the ‘turning the wheel of dharma‘ gesture.

14th-15th century (or 16th century?), Tibet?, guru, copper alloy with copper and silver inlay, private collection, photo by Ethereal.This elderly lama’s patched clothes have an unusual border with a large floral motif. The lower part of his lotus seat is also decorated with flowers. His right hand is in the ‘calling Earth to witness’ gesture, symbolising the moment when the historical buddha attained enlightenment.

17th-18th century, Tibet, lama, bronze (brass), at the Minneapolis Institute of Art  (USA).

Depicted in the manner of the 13th-14th century, this lama is seated on a thick cushion with rounded corners and wears his meditation cloak partly off his shoulders, securing it over his legs with his right hand.

Tibet, various kings (4)

15th century (1423), Tibet, The Dharma Kings, clay with pigments, at Gyantse, photo by Amy Heller on asianart

The three dharma kings of Tibet: Songtsen Gampo (6th-7th century), who has an effigy of Amitabha on his head, Trisug Detsen (8th century), Tri Ralpachen/Ralpacan (9th century). Their kingly attire includes a sumptuous silk gown tied with a belt, a scarf, felt boots, an elaborate headdress, a necklace and some earrings

16th century, Tibet, King Pundarika (labelled ‘Kundarika, 2nd King of Jambhala), gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo on Koller .

Pundarika, of whom the dalai lamas are said to be an incarnation, is the second of the kulika or kalki kings (vidhyadharas). He normally holds two lotuses. He is depicted with bare feet and no gown, thus displaying anklets, bracelets and armlets. (More about the kings of Shambala here ).

16th century, Tibet, the rna.chogs,gsugs, bronze, private collection, photo on Nagel 

Probably a king, real or mythical, this character is seated with both legs pendent, on a throne decorated with incisions. He wears kingly attire, felt boots and a cloth covering his head, including his topknot and his ears. The inscription may refer to Vishvamurti (Natshog Zug in Tibetan), the 6th king of Shambala.

17th century, Tibet, King Lha’i Gyalpo, gilt metal, at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York (USA), photo  and note on HAR .

This mythical king, seated on a stepped throne with lotus buds at each corner, does a gesture to dispels fear with his right hand and another to bestow patience with the left one.

19th century, Eastern Tibet, Derge, King Gesar, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo on Bonhams .

A late but illustrative image of King Gesar, who may be have been a real character and who, at any rate, became the protagonist of an epic with different local versions in and around the Himalayan area. In Tibetan art he may wear a tall conical helmet and be seated and dressed like a king. The above is seated on a human hide atop three cushions covered with a blanket.

Tibet, Padmasambhava – variations (8)

16th century, Tibet, Padmasambhava, bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo and close up on Hardt .

We saw an almost identical sculpture of a plump and beardless Padmambhava with a frowning gaze here, with stone-inlaid instead of plain metal jewellery. The border of his sumptuous layman’s clothes, his small cape and his lotus hat (with a sun and moon at the front and a vulture feather on top) are incised with a foliate pattern. The ritual staff placed against his left shoulder includes a vajra sceptre. His eyes are inlaid with silver and the urna on his forehead is like the historical buddha’s, i.e. a small lock of hair.

15th-16th century, Tibet, Padmasambhava, gilt bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo by Lempertz, sale 1053 lot 456.

On this variant the vajra sceptre in his right hand is pointing to the skull cup held high up before him, leaving no room for a long-life vase or a jewel, and his legs are not quite locked. His unusual hat is made of triangular leaves set wide apart.

16th-17th century, Tibet, Padmasambhava, bronze, private collection, photo on Koller.

17th-18th century, Tibet, Padmasambhava, bronze (copper alloy) with traces of cold gold, private collection, photo by Lempertz, sale 1146 lot 314.

Seated on a singular lotus base with a ritual vase (kalash) at the front.

17th-18th century, Tibet, Padmasambhava (labelled ‘painted wood figure), wood, private collection, photo by Wannenes Group, 2017.

Wearing a meditation cloak over his small cloud-shape cape.

18th century, Tibet, Padmasambhava, bronze with silver-inlaid eyes, private collection, photo on Hardt as before.

As an elderly man, holding the vajra sceptre almost upright.

Tibet, famous lamas (20)

15th-16th century, Tibet, Sönam Tsemo, copper alloy, is or was at the Spituk monastery in Ladakh, photo by Chiara Bellini, here  .  

Portrayed as a deified lama, holding the stem of lotuses that support the hilt of a sword and a manuscript, Sonam Tsemo does the ‘turning the wheel of the law’ gesture (dharmacakra mudra) with his hands close to each other. The long sleeves covering both arms indicate that he was a layman, not a monk. See biographical notes here .

16th century, Tibet, Shakya Yeshe, gilt copper cast and repoussé, private collection, photo by Christie’s, sale 16265 lot 2865. Biographical notes on Treasury of Lives 

This teacher does the same gesture but with his hands apart. He wears monastic garments, that leave his right arm bare.

16th century, Tibet, Sonam Chokyi Langpo, gilt bronze, private collection, photo by Christie’s, sale 17598 lot 350.

This 15th century teacher, who was to become the 2nd Panchen Lama posthumously, is shown  with his right hand in the gesture of debate (vitarka mudra) and the left hand cupped to hold a manuscript. He wears sumptuous Chinese silk garb including a meditation cloak with a floral motif and an embroidered border that covers his feet, and sits on a brocaded cushion  atop a throne embellished with chased patterns.

16th century, Tibet, lama, possibly Drubchen Kunga Lodra, copper alloy with turquoise inlay, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (USA).

Originally labelled ‘Milarepa’, this figure is thought to represent another teacher and is attributed to a Tsang atelier (see HAR  )

17th century, Tibet, Yutog Yontan Gonpo, gilt metal, private collection, photo on Himalayan Art Resources  .

It is not clear if there were actually two lamas with the same name (also spelled Yuthok Yonten) referred to as ‘the younger’ and ‘the older’ but this image is certainly different from the others we have seen so far. Instead of having a mahasiddha appearance he is fully dressed like a layman and his hair is smooth. There is a vase of longevity in his left hand, the right one does the boon-granting gesture.

12th-13th century, Tibet, Dromtön, stone, is or was at the Lima Lakhang of the Potala Palace in Lhasa (Tibet), photo by Ulrich von Schroeder.

A rare and early stone sculpture of Dromtön Gyalwe/Gyelwa Jungne, who lived during the 11th century (see biographical notes on Treasury of Lives ), dressed as a layman.

Circa 15th century, Tibet, Pakpa Lodrö Gyeltsen, at the Chenré monastery in Ladakh, photo by Chiara Bellini as above.

We had seen him portrayed as a deified lama, but not as an elderly man with a moustache and goatee. He holds a flaming triple gem (triratna) in his left hand. The right hand does the gesture of debate (vitarka mudra).

15th century, Tibet, Jetsun Khokhlungpa Namkha Rapsel, copper (brass) with copper inlay, at the Chenré monastery in Ladakh, photo by Chiara Bellini as before.

Namkha Rapsel from Khokhlung, holding a round flaming jewel in his left hand.

17th century, Tibet, Jamyang Rinchen, gilt bronze, private collection, photo by Christie’s.


The following, which are part of a set of lamdre teachers from the Mindroling monastery, have been published in the ‘unidentified lamas’ section of this blog, and were originally dated ‘early 16th century’. They have since been identified in A Revolutionary Artist of Tibet by David Jackson, who attributes them to the artist Khyentse Chenmo, and around ‘1460 to 1470’.

photo by Verena Ziegler, 2009 on WHAV.

Sakya master Tegchen Choje, also known as Kunga Tashi (1349-1425), is one of the elderly men in the gilt copper repoussé set. He wears monastic garments and has both hands on his knees.

photo by Verena Ziegler, 2009, on WHAV.

There are several lamas called Sonam Gyaltsen; the lamdre teacher lived during the 14th century (1312-1375) and belonged to the Sakya school of Tibetan buddhism. This work depicts him doing the fear-allaying gesture with his right hand, the left one may have supported a manuscript. A photo of the same sculpture taken by Ulrich von Schroeder in 1992 shows that the cold gold and pigments on the faces were renovated after.

Tibet, Milarepa – variants (5)

15th century, Central Tibet, Milarepa, bronze (copper alloy) with semi-precious stones and pigment, at the Norton Simon Museum (USA), photo on HAR

A remarkable sculpture of the Tibetan hero, seated with his legs locked, on an antelope skin atop an unusual lotus base, his chest bare, his right hand ‘listening to the echoes of nature’ (to quote his own words), the left hand holding a skull cup containing a triple gem surrounded with flames. He has silver and/or copper-inlaid eyes, urna and mouth and wears a meditation belt with a grain motif and a garment with a chased cloud pattern. The sumptuous jewellery inlaid with medium to large cabochons is singular, he is generally depicted with nothing but spiral-shaped bone earrings – on occasions he has a spartan piece of rope around his neck and/or a bangle on his right wrist.

16th century, Tibet, Milarepa, bronze with copper inlay, private collection, photo by Christie’s, Amsterdam, sale 2761.

Seated in a relaxed manner, holding a skull cup in his left hand, the meditation strap over his right shoulder incised and inlaid with copper.

16th century, Tibet, Milarepa, metal, published in Art of the Himalayas, photo on Himalayan Art Resources

This figure is adorned with very large earrings, a small bangle and an armband, placed rather low down, and wears his robe over his left arm. The two rows of rice grains forming an X are a recurrent pattern on meditation belts.

16th-17th century, Tibet, Milarepa, bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo by Christie’s, sale 17457 Arts d’Asie, Paris.

Seated with a leg pendent, on a curious lotus base, his meditation strap resting across the right arm, the robe slipping off his left arm, thus revealing marked pectorals and a large navel.

Undated, Tibet?, Milarepa, gilt metal, private collection photo on Himalayan Art Resources

He may raise his right hand to his ear and lean on the left arm. The above sits with his right knee raised and has a vase topped with a skull cup in front of him. His robe covers both shoulders but leaves the chest, arms and legs bare.

16th century, Tibet, Milarepa, bronze with copper inlay, private collection, photo on Hardt .

As pointed out by the auction house, it is most unusual for Milarepa to be depicted with a beard, and we don’t often see him seated with his legs locked. Presumably, identification has been made from the gesture of the right hand (associated with but not exclusive to him) together with the yogic belt over his shoulder and the skull cup in his left hand.

16th-17th century, Tibet, Milarepa, painted stone, private collection, photo on Astamangala .

The yogi is seated on an antelope skin on a base evoking the cave in which he retired to meditate. There is a skull cup containing a jewel in his left hand.

17th-18th century, Tibet, Milarepa, polychrome clay, private collection, photo by Castor-Hara, Arts d’Asie 2010.

Tibet, Dharmata and arhats (3)

17th-18th century, Tibet, Dharmata, gilt brass (copper alloy), at the Penn Museum (USA).

Seated on a throne covered with a rug, a small tiger by his side, the gentle attendant to the sixteen arhats is dressed as a layman and has his hair tied in a topknot. There is a long-life vase in his left hand; the right hand holds the strap of his backpack.

He always carries books strapped to his back.

Circa 18th century? Tibet?, Dharmata, gilt metal (copper alloy), private collection, photo on Himalayan Art Resources .

A Chinese-style image showing him seated in a relaxed posture, with his back erect and holding the strap firmly with his left hand while having a gesture of reassurance towards the young tiger by his side, who looks at him lovingly. The intricate topknot and earrings add to the elegance of the character.

Circa 17th century, Tibet, Kanakavatsa, gilt bronze, private collection, photo by Christie’s, sale 1492 lot 197.

Kanaka Vatsa is identified by the jewelled lasso in his hands. The artist has depicted him as an emaciated elderly man, seated on a square cushion, his chest bare, a felt boot showing from under his robe.

18th century, Tibet, arhat Abheda (labelled ‘lama’), gilt bronze, private collection, photo by Skinner Inc., sale 2528b.

Abheda always holds a stupa before him with both hands.

18th century, Tibet, arhat Pindola Bharadvaja? (labelled ‘lama’), gilt bronze, private collection, photo by Skinner Inc., sale 2528b.

This may be Pindola Bharadvaja, who holds a book in his right hand and a begging bowl (missing here) in the other.

18th century, Tibet Ajita, gilt bronze, private collection, photo by Lempertz, sale 1053 lot 455.

Ajita is easy to identify as he always has part of his cloak over his head and both hands in the meditation gesture.

18th century, Tibet, Arhats, polychrome wood, private collection, photo by Bohams, 25th June 2019 San Francisco, lot 171.