Tibet, crowned Shakyamuni – seated (5)

11th century, Tibet, Shakyamuni (labelled Akshobhya), copper alloy, at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg (Russia).

Easily confused with Askhobhya, who does the same hand gestures and often has a vajra sceptre placed before him, this is more likely Shakyamuni in his ‘crowned buddha’ form,  holding a piece of his robe in his left hand and wearing a crown, earrings and a necklace – no bracelets, armbands or anklets. We have seen a similar image from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (UK) with the same type of lotus base but here the two rows of petals are not facing each other. (see below for comparison).

10th-11th century, Tibet, buddha Shakyamuni, bronze with traces of gilding, 8 cm, at the Ashmolean Museum (UK).

The Ashmolean buddha has no vajra sceptre before him.

12th century, Tibet, Shakyamuni, gilt copper, is or was at the gTsug Lakhang in Lhasa, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

Crowned buddhas may wear just a crown (i.e. no earrings or necklace).

15th century, Tibet, Shakyamuni, gilt copper alloy with pigment, private collection, photo by Pundoles.

When seated in his crowned-buddha form, Shakyamuni touches the ground with his right hand, calling the Earth goddess to witness his enlightenment. The other hand is held in the meditation gesture.

15th century, Tibet, Shakyamuni or Vairocana, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

Both Shakyamuni and Vairochana may sit on a throne supported by lions (and a Yaksha at the centre, in this case). The position of the hands together with the (discreet) presence of armbands, bracelets, anklets, and  lotuses attached to the elbows, point to the latter.

Circa 16th century, Tibet, Shakyamuni, gilt copper with turquoise inlay, at the Musée Guimet in Paris (France).

The absence of jewellery tells us that this is the historical buddha.

17th-18th century, Tibet, Shakyamuni, fire-gilt embossed copper, stone inlay, private collection.

The meaning of the crown is still subject to debate and the interpretation varies from one geographical region to another. In Tibetan art it is often explained as a sign of the buddha having reached a higher realm.






Tibet, Amoghasiddhi – bodhisattva appearance (6)

10th-11th century, Western Tibet, Amoghasiddhi or Vajravidarana, silver with bronze inlay, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (USA).

This Kashmiri-style masterpiece was originally thought to be a portrait of Vajravidarana, who holds a visvajra in the right hand and a bell in the other at hip level. However, the throne supported by a garuda is associated with Amoghasiddhi, who is more likely to have been the object of such an early sculpture. But Amoghasiddhi holds his visvajra in the left hand and doesn’t hold a bell in the other… There are other cases of two deities being depicted in one sculpture, intentionally.

Labelled 10th century (more likely 13th-14th century), Tibet, Amoghasiddhi, clay on wood covered with plaster and paint, at a Tibetan monastery, photo by Fosco Marani.

In Tibet, Amoghasiddhi normally holds his right hand at heart level in the fear-allaying gesture and the other in the meditation gesture.

13th-14th century, Tibet, Amoghasiddhi, copper alloy, at the Palace Museum in Beijing (China).

Undated, Tibet, Amoghasiddhi, gilt metal and stone inlay, at the Dallas Museum of Art (USA).

Tibet, Avalokiteshvara – standing (13)

10th-11th century, Western Tibet, copper alloy with traces of blue pigment and turquoise inlay, private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

One of the features that typifies a group of early West Tibetan sculptures is the tripartite crown made of three triangular foliate panels of more or less equal size.

Others are the way the garment and accessories are richly engraved with a floral or geometrical pattern, the dhoti being much shorter on one side, the way the thick folds drop at the front in a zig-zag shape. There is a 10th-11th century Avalokiteshvara at the Musée Guimet with a similar belt (see below).

10th-11th century, Western Tibet, brass with silver inlay, at Musée Guimet in Paris (France).

but instead of the usual antelope skin, Sotheby’s item is adorned with a broad sash – most unusual on West Tibetan works of that period.


The rim of his crown and his necklace are inlaid with turquoise (missing on the latter).

Undated, Tibet, Avalokiteshvara, copper alloy and cold gold, at the Tibet House Museum in New Delhi (India), published on Himalayan Art Resources.

In his padmapani form Avalokiteshvara holds the long stem of a lotus in his left hand while the right hand dose the fear-allaying gesture (first item) or the gesture of supreme generosity (above).

15th century, Central Tibet, padmapani Avalokiteshvara, copper alloy, private collection.

Tibet, Amitayus – bodhisattva appearance (11)

11th century, Tibet, Amitayus, copper alloy, private collection, Bonhams.

Amitayus is an aspect of Amitabha usually depicted with a bodhisattva appearance.

13th century, Tibet, gilt metal with stone inlay, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

His distinctive attribute is a long-life vase held in both hands.

13th-14th century, Tibet, Amitayus, (labelled Amitabha), at Kangmar, Shigatse (Tibet), photo from the Huntington Archive.

This richly adorned figure sits on a throne supported by a yaksha and two peacocks (Amitabha’s mount).

18th century, Tibet, Amitayus, (parcel) gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Arman Antiques.

The only buddha with a bodhisattva appearance who holds both hands in the meditation gesture is Amitayus. The parcel gilding and the celestial scarf flowing straight upward like the ribbons of the crown correspond to the Tibeto-Chinese style.

18th century, Tibet, Amitayus, parcel gilt metal and silver inlay, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

For the sake of comparison, this Sino-Tibetan style work (made by a Chinese artist for a Tibetan patron) portrays Amitayus with a double chignon topped with a jewel, and an ample lower garment gathered loosely over his legs and most of the pedestal, both of which are also gilt.

18th century, Tibet, Amitayus, copper repoussé, silver and gold inlay, detachable ornaments, private collection, photo by Mossgreen.

Tibet, Manjushri – various forms

Undated (circa 11th century?), Western Tibet, Guge Kingdom, Ngari Manjushri, brass, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom,  is particularly easy to identify when he brandishes a sword. In his sthiracakra form he holds the Prajnaparamita tantra in his left hand at heart level, as above.

The tripartite crown with triangular panels and large rosettes, the foliate garland, the stippled decoration on the accessories and the incisions are typical of the Ngari area.

14th century, Tibet, Manjushri, gilt copper alloy, at the Rietberg Museum in Zürich (Switzerland), photo from the Hungtington Archive.

In his arapachana form he holds at heart level the stem of a lotus that supports the manuscript. According to the texts, it should be a blue lotus, which has a triangular shape because it is never fully open (unlike this one).

15th-16th century, Tibet, Guhyasamaja Manjuvajra, gilt copper, photo from the Huntington Archive.

One of the various forms of Manjushri derived from the namasangiti tantra, Guhyasamaja Manjuvajra may be with his consort or alone. He has three heads and six hands, in which he holds a flaming sword and a blue lotus (utpala) topped with a book (upper hands), a vajra sceptre and a bell -missing here from his main hands – a bow and an arrow (lower hands).

15th century, Tibet (labelled China on Himalayan Art Resources), Manjushri, gilt copper alloy and turquoise inlay, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

Originally, White Manjushri had no sword at all. From the 13th century onwards he started to be depicted with lotuses supporting the manuscript to his left and the hilt of a sword to his right.

Circa 15th century, Tibet, possibly Central Tibet (Tsang atelier), bronze (copper alloy), at Tibet House Museum in New Delhi, photo from the Huntington Archive.

His hands often do the ‘turning the wheel of dharma‘ gesture.

16th century, Tibet, Manjushri, gilt copper alloy with coral and turquoise inlay, private collection, photo by Hayman Himalayan Art.

When seated, even if the hilt of a sword is not visible, the book on the lotus to his left is enough to identify him.

Tibet, Chakrasamvara – 12 hands (5)

Labelled 11th century, Western Tibet (also labelled China, 17th century), Chakrasamvara mandala, brass, Kashmir school, is or was at the Lima Lakhang in Lhasa, published by Ulrich von Schroeder.

This rare works depicts the 4-head and 12-hand form of Chakrasamvara standing on Kalaratra and Bhairava and embracing with his consort, who has one leg around his waist. He holds a vajra sceptre and a bell in his main hands crossed over Vajravarahi’s back, the hide of an elephant in his upper hands, a trident, an axe, a knife, a vajra stick in the remaining right hands; a (partly broken) skull cup, Brahma’s four heads, a broken implement and a noose in the remaining left hands. She holds a knife and, presumably, a skull cup (not visible here). His head is topped with a visvajra and a crescent moon, they wear three-skull crowns and bone jewellery, a garland of severed heads for him, a garland of skulls for her. Their faces are painted with cold gold and pigments, the hair dyed with blue pigment. The flaming arch and halo behind them are decorated with pots topped with a skull cup and wrathful deities standing on a victim.

15th century, Tibet, Chakrasamvara, gilt bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

On this example the crescent moon is on the other side of his chignon and the visvajra is at the front. He holds the usual implements in his main hands, possibly the extremities of an elephant hide in the upper ones, a drum, an axe, a flaying knife, another implement (which should be a trident but doesn’t look like one) in the remaining right hands; a staff with a head and three skulls, a skull cup, a noose, Brahma’s four heads in the remaining left hands. She wears a bone apron with raining jewel pendants, bone jewellery and a garland of skull. He wears a tiger skin dhoti, the head of the animal resting over his left thigh, bones jewellery, a garland of human heads and a bone apron with heads and raining jewel pendants.

Same as before with turquoise inlay, private collection photo by Bonhams.

The elephant hide is often missing and all that remains are the extremities of the animal in Chakrasamvara’s upper hands. The above has a full hide across his back.

Tibet, White Manjushri – standing (3)

12th century, Western Tibet, bodhisattva Manjushri, schist and pigments, at Stanford University (USA), published on Himalayan Art Resources.

The manuscript and/or the blue lotus that help identify him are missing.

His moonlike face and his hair are painted with pigments, the chignon is fastened with a golden ribbon and topped with a lotus bud finial. He is adorned with a low tiara, princely jewellery and a sacred thread. His right hand, displays a refuge-bestowing gesture (the tip of the ring finger pressing the tip of the thumb).


11th-12th century, Western Himalayas, probably Manjushri, bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo by Pundoles.This West-Tibetan style sculpture is almost the same as a West Tibetan  Manjushri at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, published in a previous post and reproduced below. He holds the stem of a lotus topped with a  manuscript in his left hand and has an upright conch shell in the other.

11th-12th century, Western Tibet, brass, at the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford, UK).

17th-18th century, tibet, Manjushri, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Lempertz.

The lotuses that support the hilt of a sword and the Prajnaparamita sutra are a clear indication that this is the bodhisattva of wisdom. His tall Pala-style chignon is also topped with a lotus finial. He wears a long transparent dhoti that reveals his knee caps. The hands are held in the ‘turning the wheel of dharma’ gesture more often seen on Chinese and Nepalese sculptures of Manjushri than on Tibetan ones.