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Tracing the Reception and Adaptation of Foreign
esthetic elements in Tibetan sculpture
by Amy Heller

September 20, 2006

This article was published in German in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition TIBET: Treasures from Tibetan Monasteries and is published here with the kind permission of the exhibition organizers.

(click on the small image for full screen image with captions.)

Criss-crossed by trade routes since time immemorial, the earliest historic records of Tibet in the 7th century describe a flourishing kingdom actively engaged in political and matrimonial alliances with rival tribes and foreign powers. This was a period of intense economic and cultural exchange coinciding with the political consolidation and extension of Tibetan territory which lasted until mid-9th century. Exposed to Buddhism and Buddhist art by their conquests, the Tibetans maintained a distinctive religion centered around their Emperor, the Tsenpo, the mightiest warrior whose sacred character and burial rites were linked to a cult of mountain deities. The earliest Tibetan sculptures known are related to this religion, for example stone lion statues 1 meter high to guard the royal tombs, small horses with elaborate saddle and tack in hammered gold with granulation discovered in central Tibet, as well as a gilt silver deer excavated from a tomb in Dulan (Qinghai) [1] . A gilt silver reliquary excavated from the same tomb indicates that already by mid-8th century, the Tibetans had developed a syncretic burial cult in which Buddhist ceremonial objects were integrated within the indigenous rites. [2] The introduction of Buddhism and Buddhist art was part of a complex interaction – economic, cultural and political – which was progressively transforming Tibetan society from the mid-7th to mid-9th century. To appreciate how the Tibetans developed their distinctive fusion and adaptation of foreign styles and techniques, we will examine here the multiple influences inspired by the arts of Central Asia and China, as well as of India and the Kashmiri and Nepalese schools. Indeed, just as the Tibetan priests had created eclectic burial cults by accumulation of diverse elements, it became the hallmark of great Tibetan artists to observe regional styles and absorb them by accommodating them, by blending them into a new mode – sometimes several simultaneously. We will first examine the esthetic characteristics of the most ancient metalwork to see how this process of fusion and adaptation of foreign influences was accomplished, and subsequently we will examine these tendencies in the sculptures which the Tibetans made to honor the Buddhist religion.

Metalwork of the Tibetan Empire

Since the imperial period, in addition to stone sculpture, there is ample documentation of Tibetan metallurgical skills for fine and base metal. In base metal, military objectives led to the development of sophisticated technology of suspension chain-link bridges and scale armor during the Tibetan empire. [3]

Fig. 1
The earliest traces of Tibetan sculpture in metal are gold artifacts found in central Tibet attributed by archeologists to the 7th to 8th century. The 7th century Tibetan goldsmiths were frequently cited by the Tang Annals for remarkable objects used in ceremonies, such as a fabulous golden ewer, shaped like a goose more than 2 meters high. [4] Ancient Tibetan historical sources describe silver jugs shaped like birds [5] , or a finial of a bird or camel head at the top of an ewer. In fact, a spectacular hammered and gilt silver jug attributed to 8th to 9th century Tibetan workmanship has been conserved in the Lhasa Jokhang since the 17th century: 80 cm high, it holds 35 litres of liquid, with gilded designs in raised scrolling for heart medallions and three scenes of central Asian dancers and men in drunken revelry. [6] The representations of such people demonstrate Tibetans’ familiarity with their Central Asian neighbours whose crowns, facial features and long curly hair were all very different from their own appearance. The nape of the jug has a motif of stylized Tang coins, while the animal head belongs to a mythical animal, a one-horned deer, known in Chinese as the qilin. This accumulation of discrete elements has led to an unusual form of ewer which harmonizes the diverse elements. Another remarkable ancient Tibetan silver object is a cast silver vase with parcel gilding in the recess of the floral designs; it bears an inscription in Tibetan letters written in the distinctive form of punctuation and spelling used during the Tibetan empire. (Fig.1). The shape and proportions of this vase are those of the classical Indian kalasha however the principal designs represent fantastic creatures, such as a part-bird, part horse hybrid among elaborate vines and foliage. While the vine scrolls and flowers may have been introduced to China from the west during the Tang, the hybrid creatures are far from sinicized stylistic conventions of fantasy animals. Inspired by Indian, Central Asian and Chinese artistic vocabularies, the vase represents a totally new and ingenious mode of creation. Technically, however, the vase is cast in a traditional Nepalese manner – similar cast and embossed vases are made even to this day by the Newar craftsmen of Kathmandu. This indicates assimilation of technique as well as esthetic elements. Both the silver jug in the Jokhang and the silver vase in the Pritzker collection corroborate the high quality of Tibetan skills in metalwork as described in the ancient historical sources – simultaneously they reveal and demonstrate this exceptional creative process which integrated multi-cultural elements to form a new idiom. While Sassanian Iran and Sogdian central asia may be the ultimate source of the art of hammered gold and silver and the inspiration of many floral and medallion designs circulating in Tibet and China during this period, it may be argued that the Tibetans fused diverse Central Asian and Chinese design motifs and substituted other metallurgical techniques in the creation of their metal objects .

The Earliest Buddhist sculptures in Tibet

According to the Tibetan Annals, the principal tribute received was bolts of silk from Tang China, yet the vast quantity of Buddhist sculptures of many countries from this period which remained in Tibet obliges us to recognize that the Tibetans may have been the earliest collectors of Buddhist art on earth!


Fig. 2
To understand the Buddhist sculpture which reached Tibet, it is essential to review the multitude of styles the Tibetans encountered by their conquests and their expansionist campaigns in all directions, from the Silk Route to the Himalayas. The powerful empire of the Tuyuhun, based near Kokonor, was the first foreign conquest by Tibet, ca. 637, immediately followed by the subjugation of the nearby Tangut and Sumpa tribes. This led the Tibetan troops to raid the Chinese border, a threat which was concluded by a marriage alliance between China and Tibet. The young Chinese princess left Xian for Tibet in 641, inaugurating a period of lively cultural exchange. Chinese literature and silks reached Tibet with the princess. Did she introduce Buddhism to Tibet? This is unlikely, due to her youth. However later traditions attribute this role to her and it is quite probable that Buddhist texts and even small sculptures reached Tibet during this period (see show: item No 21. N.Wei Buddha). [7] In the following decades, Tibetan conquests along the Silk Route, from Khotan, to Kashgar, Kucha and eventually Dunhuang, amply exposed them to many schools of Buddhism and Buddhist art of Central Asia and China. To the south, in 648 Tibetan troops assured protection of a Chinese pilgrim en route to India via Nepal. Tibetan involvement in Nepalese politics began ca. 624 when a break in the succession of the Licchavi dynasty led the Licchavi king Narendradeva to seek asylum in Tibet. He is understood to have been present in Lhasa with his court. Assisted by Tibetan support, he returned to Nepal in 643 where he was victorious in his quest for power. Narendradeva’s presence in Lhasa may be linked to the activity of Nepalese artists in Tibet since these earliest historical political relations in mid-seventh century. Although there is a famous description by a 7th century Chinese pilgrim of the Nepalese king on official visits “wearing a Buddhist emblem in his belt”, on the whole the Licchavi kings were Hindus who showed reverence to Buddhism. [8] This is reflected by earliest dated sculpture in the Kathmandu valley, the royal sculptural commission of a colossal recumbent Vishnu lying on the naga serpents (length 7 meters ) carved in 641 in a pond north of Kathmandu (Fig. 2) [9] . The esthetics of Licchavi Nepal were directly inspired by late Gupta India for both Hindu and Buddhist art. The very smooth still body of Vishnu lies poised above the coils of the naga sensually winding in the water beneath the god. The Licchavi sculptors excelled in smooth modeling with simple and naturalistic treatment of garments. In Tibet, the impact in Lhasa of the presence of Narendradeva may be seen in the carvings in wood of the Lhasa Jokhang, traditionally believed to be the earliest Buddhist sanctuary in Lhasa. (Fig. 3, below). Here one will find a peacock beside the amorous couple cavorting on the lintels, their garments and distinctive earrings directly inspired by Licchavi models such as this female devotee carved in stone at the base of the Chabahil stupa in Kathmandu. (Fig. 4, below) The slender body with tubular legs and arms and the spiritual expression of her face characterize Licchavi sculpture as does the peculiar way of aligning the toes, heels and legs to form an unbroken line. [10] It was not only in the vicinity of Lhasa where this esthetic was appreciated for in a rock sculpture carved in Eastern Tibet, the Buddha Vairocana exhibits similar body proportions and the distinctive alignment (Fig. 5, below). This sculpture is dated by inscription to 816 AD. It is remarkable for the bodies of the Buddha and his bodhisattva attendants all display the similar body proportions. The Chinese stylistic conventions to portray Buddha in voluminous folds of monastic robes have not been followed, and upon closer inspection, an Indian dhoti would probably be visible at the thighs. The legs and feet are presented in full lotus position (vajra paryanka asana). The lotus pedestal is composed in two levels. The upper section has one layer of large, rounded petals, the lower portion presents a single layer of almost flat petals, symmetrically aligned about the circular medallion at the top of the thick lotus stem. In these aspects, Nepalese esthetics have inspired the sculptors. However, the canopy above the Buddha and Bodhisattva is a canopy inspired by paintings and sculptures in Dunhuang, typical of Chinese Buddhist art along the Silk Route, while the lions beneath the thone recall those carved to guard the Tibetan tombs.

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

Fig. 5

Indeed, the impact of the Tibetan occupation of the city-oases of the Silk Route, intermittently from mid-seventh century until 850 AD, had been contact with the Indo-Hellenic cultures prevalent in Central Asia as well as the Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist traditions of China. During the same period, and with fluctuating success, Tibet controlled or exacted tribute in the Pamirs, notably from 720-740 the kingdom of Bolor (now Gilgit). In 740, a Tibetan princess was sent to cement the alliance with the Gilgit royalty. Earlier, a mission from Gilgit had presented tribute in central Tibet.

The cultural exchange with Gilgit exposed the Tibetans to the canons of Buddhist art then prevailing in Gilgit, which was strongly influenced by neighbouring Kashmir. The plump oval face with low spherical usnisa, widow’s peak hairline, elongated almond eyes, narrow arched eyebrows, straight pointed nose, small lips, narrow chin and fleshy neck are the typical features of the Buddhas sculpted in both regions, whose garments clinging to the body in rippled folds. The mid-7th century standing Buddha from Kashmir (Cat. No. 81 ) already presents these characteristics; their persistence may be seen in the seated Buddha from Gilgit now conserved in the Potala (Cat. No. 80). The Tibetans occupied Khotan from the late 7th century, and in Domoko, Khotan, where Tibetan documents were found, so were small clay votive plaques (tsa tsa) and a cast sculpture of a seated Buddha, probably from Gilgit ca. late 7th to early 8th century. [11] This sculpture bears great resemblance to the seated Gilgit Buddha of the Potala. Indeed, Tibetans encountered the Buddhist esthetics of Kashmir and Gilgit both in situ and during their occupation of the oases along the Silk Route. Quite possibly the Gilgit Buddha now in the Potala was brought into Tibet directly from Gilgit shortly after its creation as this sculpture chronologically corresponds to the period of Tibetan occupation of Gilgit as well as the period when Gilgit presented tribute in central Tibet.

The seated Buddha from Gilgit has a fabric cushion with the inlay of copper and silver forming the patterns of roundel motifs which was also a characteristic of their esthetic grammar. The pearl roundel designs of Sassanian and Sogdian fabrics and coins traded from Persia and Samarkand during the sixth to 7th centuries made a long-lasting impact on Buddhist art throughout Asia due to the trade along the Silk Route and ancillary routes leading to India. [12] These designs showed a pearl medallion centered around a bird or animal, or confronted creatires. Roundel motifs reached Tibet via actual textiles imported to Tibet from China and Central Asia as well as the representations of these textiles in Buddhist sculpture. Similar designs were used in Licchavi coins, with a deity or an elephant at center. Emulation of Nepalese coins led the Tibetans to carve the roundel pattern with an elephant at center at the erected for the foundation of a 9th century Buddhist temple. [13] The roundel remained fashionable, for in Nepal, ca. 10th-11th century, it was adopted as a textile pattern for cushions beneath Vasudhara (see Cat. No. 58 ), where the roundel is cast in copper with traces of gilding, following Nepalese taste, rather than the inlay work of Kashmir or Gilgit. We will discuss below its presence in 11th century Tibet.

Fig. 6
The clay sculptures of standing Bodhisattva in early ninth century sanctuaries in central Tibet display a clear influence of Buddhist art from along the Silk Route encountered through the occupations from Khotan to Dunhuang. [14] In addition to the art observed in occupied oases of the Silk Route, the Tibetans were exposed to Buddhist sculptures and illuminated manuscripts brought to Tibet by Indian, Kashmiri and Nepalese teachers in this period. Chinese and Korean monks were also present in Tibet. Translation programs began in earnest in the second half of the 8th century. At Samye, the first Buddhist monastery founded in 779, historical sources inform us that clay Bodhisattva were modeled based on the physiognomy of local Tibetan people, by a miraculous Nepalese artist. The potential styles to be used were Indian, Nepalese, Chinese or Tibetan, reflecting the esthetic models the Tibetans then knew best. [15] Near Samye, the standing Bodhisattva and royalty attributed to early ninth century are also sculpted in clay on a wooden armature (Fig. 6). The elongated bodies are draped in garments reminiscent of Indian scarves and dhoti. These are not clinging to the body as Indian garments would tend to do, and the stiff bodies are far from the relaxed and sensual contours of Indian sculpture. The rigidity of the garments and the body postures reflects the esthetics of Buddhist art from the Silk Route. The high thin arched brows and almond eyes distantly recall those of the Gilgit Buddha, yet the broad face and full cheekbones reflect an admixture of Licchavi esthetics such as seen in the 816 Buddha carved in Eastern Tibet. Here too the fusion of several discrete stylistic elements characterizes the Tibetan sculpture.

The Flourishing of Buddhism – 10th-14th century


Fig. 7
By mid-tenth century, in the aftermath of the distintegration of the Tibetan Empire, the scions of the royal line had migrated west of central Tibet to the region of Guge, stretching from the Kailash to portions of what is now Ladakh. They proclaimed their commitment to Buddhism and sent envoys south to the great monastic universities in northeastern India and also to Kashmir to invite Buddhist masters and to bring orthodox teachings to their kingdom. Their program of mass translation was accompanied by the foundation of monasteries in Toling and nearby Tabo, where the original sculptures and paintings may still be admired today. The clay sculpture distinctly reflects Kashmiri esthetic influence by an emphasis on robust bodies with a strong physique: broad shoulders, powerful chest and abdominal muscles. There is a persistence of the facial features of the earlier phase: the high arched brows, elongated eyes and tiny lips. The kings of Guge had sent the monk Rinchen bzangpo as royal envoy to Kashmir. He returned bringing texts to translate as well as sculptures acquired in Kashmir, and he was accompanied by numerous Kashmiri artists. In 996, the royal family commissioned the casting of a special sculpture for the foundation of a sanctuary at Khojarnath. Contemporary documents describe it as “the Great Silver Image” which brings to mind literary accounts of massive sculptures in Kashmir, cast in gold, silver and copper described by the 12th century Kashmiri historian Kalhana. [16] However, later authors describe the Khojarnath sculpture as a collaborative work by two sculptors, the Kashmiri Wangula and the Nepalese Ashvadharma. While only their names have come down in history, the fame of the shrine at Khojarnath had wide renown. The Khojarnath “ Great Silver Image” was destined to become one of the “cult” sculptures of Tibet, an image of which copies were made to emulate its sacred presence. [17] One such sculpture is a Padmapani now conserved in the Pritzker collection (Fig. 7). [18] This statue may well represent the epitome of Kashmiri esthetics as understood and expressed by artists in Western Tibet. The extremely muscular chest and abdomen, the inlay of silver eyes and copper stripes in the dhoti and the distinctive crown with crescent above a row of pearls were all frequent characteristics used by Kashmiri artists. Yet, the enlarged scale of the image, its largely unfinished back and Tibetan consecration prayers inserted in the sculpture all tend to indicate production in western Tibet, rather than in Kashmir. The silver eyes and copper stripes of the dhoti may be observed in the Western Tibetan sculpture of Vajrasattva and Varjadhatvisvari (Cat. No. 11). A slightly later sculpture strongly influenced by Kashmir but probably produced in Tibet is another aspect of Avalokiteshvara (Cat. No. 33) where the back of the sculpture is fully finished but the attenuated facial features and certain variations in the mudra of the six hands tend to suggest production in Tibet, whether by Kashmiri artists working in Tibet or Tibetan artists working in Kashmiri style. Returning to the Pritzker Padmapani, one important feature is the appearance of a second earring in the upper ear lobe. This is a trait found already in the paintings of Ajanta for lay aristocratic females, as well as later Pala sculptures. [19] Although one example has been found in Kashmir, a 4th century sculpture of a goddess, this is infrequent in Kashmir and common in Gupta India and in Pala India. [20] It is however male bodhisattva who wear this earring in Tabo while it is worn by both male and female deities Alchi. Possibly this feature is the trace of an Indian artist from Magadha who was working in Toling around 1000 AD – or possibly, it is the trace of Ashvadharma, the Nepalese sculptor traditionally renowned for his collaboration on the Khojarnath image. [21] Due to their constant commercial and cultural exchange with Pala India, the Nepalese artists were totally familiar with the Pala esthetic models which they had largely adapted to their patrons' taste.

Fig. 8
During this period, the kings of Guge invited the Buddhist master Atisha, one of the foremost scholars of Vikramasila monastery in the heartland of the Indian Pala kingdom. Atisha is credited with the introduction a particular model of stupa to Tibet (see Cat. No. 23), which is the Mahaparinirvana stupa found as finial on the Mahabodhi shrine in Bodhgaya (see Cat. No. 22). [22] As didactic tools, Atisha brought numerous manuscripts with him to translate as he traveled, he composed many texts himself and in daily rituals he made small clay sculptures (tsha tsha) such as the Avalokiteshvara (Cat. No. 104-d). In addition to the introduction of the Buddhist texts then practiced in the monastic universities of Bihar, inevitably the artistic models of Pala India were conveyed by the illuminations in the texts themselves (such as the Prajnaparamita manuscript Cat. No. 26) as well as the small sculptures, whether cast, or carved in stone or in perishable materials. Pala sculpture may be characterized by voluptuous seated or standing postures, curvaceous bodies with garments and strands of jewelry which cling to the body, elegant body proportions, oval faces, piled locks of hair combed into large chignons; in cast sculptures, there may be ornamentation with inset gems as well as elaborate use of silver and copper inlay. The lotus pedestal is often tiered, at least two layers of petals, carefully aligned, with beading on upper and lower edges of the pedestal. [23] (see Fig. 8 Pala stone Tara, and Cat. No. 32, Maitreya and Cat. No. 51, Heruka). The small stone Tara is an exquisite portable shrine in miniature, probably made in India for a Tibetan pilgrim. The back of the sculpture has the typical “window” to reveal Tara’s chignon, a necklace at the nape of her neck, and the intricate strands of beads of her belt. Behind the lotus pedestal, there is very skilled carving of an inscription in Tibetan letters which probably was made by the sculptor due to the mastery of the carving technique. [23a] Whether this sculpture was actually produced in India for the Tibetans who traveled there as pilgrims or whether it was conveyed to Tibet by masters such as Atisha, there is no doubt that many Pala sculptures reached Tibet long ago, as there is no corrosion from burial as found in many excavated Pala sculptures in India. [24] The accurate attribution of provenance of Pala sculpture is further complicated by evidence of a practice of casting copies of especially sacred Indian images, such as the enshrined Buddha of Bodh gaya, which has been recognized as a Tibetan practice. [25] We will return to this topic below, in discussion of antiquarian taste in Tibet in 14-15-16th century. For the some of the Pala sculptures of 11th to 12th century, it is virtually impossible to determine whether these may have been made in India or in Tibet, whether they are contemporary or later copies, and the nationality of the sculptor remains uncertain.


Fig. 9
Due to Atisha’s Indian nationality, he may be regarded as one of many Indians who introduced the Tibetans to Indian esthetics, yet Atisha may also be partially responsible for an influx of Nepalese artists to Tibet. As he left Vikramasila, he journeyed to west Tibet via the Kathmandu valley where he remained at least a year. Atisha’s biography informs us that he was skilled as an artist and a calligrapher. During his residence in Nepal, his biography also informs us that he met Indian artists there and that he made sandalwood self-portrait [26] . Undoubtedly he encountered Nepalese artists eager to study and emulate the Indian models – thus Atisha may also be understood as one of the many conduits which lead to the introduction of Nepalese artists and their esthetics to Tibet in the 11th century, as described above in the Great Silver Image commissioned by the Kings of Guge in 996. Nepalese Buddhist masters were frequently described in Tibetan historical literature from the 11th century onwards, active in West Tibet and in Central Tibet, while since this period, Tibetans are recorded as students in the Kathmandu valley. [27] In addition to individual deities cast in copper alloy, the intricate scrolled gilt copper repoussé work of the aureole of the deites and the throne back is a significant factor in Nepalese sculpture. This may be observed in 11th-12th century Nepalese sculptures conserved in Tibet where the gilt copper repoussé aureole is decorated with foliate scrollwork of a winding plant, [28] Elaborate foliate scrollwork is also found in clay sculptures in southern and central Tibet, particularly the scroll work of the prabhamandala behind the Buddha and Bodhisattva sculptures in the sanctuaries of rKyang bu and Zho-nang (Fig. 9). [29] Similar scrollwork for the prabhamandala may be observed today in Shalu on clay sculptures modeled in 2004 according to archival photographs from 1960 which faithfully document the 11th century sculptures of Shalu’s Yum chen mo chapel, the consecration of which is attributed to Atisha.

The 11th to 12th century clay sculptures from Shalu and rKyang bu are eclectic. The body proportions correspond neither to the elongated tubular Nepalese limbs nor the sensual fleshy curves of the Indian bodies although these sculptures are enthroned inside prabhamandala of Indo-Nepalese origin. The massive bodies of the sculptures are hidden by the garments, whether robes or dhoti and sash, which are often embellished in relief with the roundel textile motifs previously discussed. The esthetic features of this school of Tibetan clay sculpture borrow specific aspects from multiple styles and bring these discrete elements together in such a way that the “origins” are concealed. Among these clay sculptures, the robes of certain Buddha sculptures are closed with a specific hook which is typical of Korean and Chinese monks’ robes. [30] The facial features show Pala influence for the square forehead, the dip of the upper eyelid, the thin pointed nose, but the pursed lips and pronounced chin do not follow Pala prototypes. The clay sculpture in Tibet allows ample appreciation of the Tibetan capacity to transpose esthetic elements from one style to another and create a unique synthesis.

During the 12th to 13th century, many Nepalese artists came to work in Tibet. The most famous is a young Nepalese sculptor, Aniko, who came to work at Sa skya monastery ca. 1251. In the wake of Sa skya involvement with the emergent Yuan dynasty, Aniko traveled to the new capital in the entourage of the Sa skya monks serving as teachers to the Yuan emperor Kubilai. The 1292 stone Makakala sculpture is an excellent example of the Nepalese esthetics during the reign of Kubilai (see plate in Stoddard Essay). The dragons on the lower level of the stone sculpture belie a degree of Chinese influence in what is otherwise a Nepalese sculpture commissioned for an icon of Tibetan Buddhism. The donation inscription mentions a high-level administrator in eastern Tibet during Kubilai’s reign whose nationality is uncertain – and the artist dKon mchog skyabs is credited for the sculpture. [31] Certainly the temptation to attribute this sculpture to Aniko is great. [32] However, in view of the sculptor’s name, it is more likely to attribute this work to the school of Aniko, the extremely fine workmanship reflects the Nepalese esthetic associated with Aniko’ or his atelier, characterized by scrupulous attention to proportions and iconography and highly expressive features. [33] The face of the Mahakala almost sparks with flames from the eyebrows and moustaches! (see also Cat. No. 64). In view of the workplace of the donor of the 1292 Mahakala, this sculpture is the oldest dated example known today of a work made in Tibet, according to Tibetan Buddhist iconographic stipulations, in the most pure Nepalese esthetic style. It is both an extraordinary sculpture and an historical document.

Fig. 10
While Aniko left Tibet for Beijing, during the 13th to 15th centuries, many other Nepalese artists settled in Tibet, working at Sa skya and other monasteries affiliated with Sa skya such as Shalu in central Tibet. In Western Tibet, the Brigung monastic order took control of Khojarnath and founded several sanctuaries in the Kailash area. The life-size Great Silver Statue of Khojarnath was given two bodhisattva attendants as well as a full torana and base ca. 1220, and henceforth known as the Three Silver Brothers. A unique triad in the Pritzker collection represents the Three Silver Brothers (Fig.10, Three Silver Brothers). A Tibetan dedication inscription describes the donor, a Tibetan lama named Nam mkha’ grags, whose historical identification remains elusive. Thermoluminescence tests confirm that it dates from ca. 12 - 13th century. Metallurgical analysis further revealed that the central statue of Avalokiteshvara has a torso cast in pure silver, his dhoti of brass with inlay in silver and copper in elaborate patterns, while the two other bodhisattva are cast in an alloy with a high percentage of tin. The elaborate composition of the Pritzker triad, the fine gilding and style of the torana and the base all reflect Nepalese esthetics of the period, the exceptional inlay of the dhoti is a reminder of the Kashmiri style which was so popular in Western Tibet when the Great Silver Statue was made. It remains to be determined what relationship this triad has with the life-size Three Silver Brothers of Khojarnath. Even so, it is an eloquent testimony to the consummate taste of Nam mkha grags: it is a Tibetan sculpture which is a most elegant fusion of discrete esthetic styles and metallurgical techniques.


Fig. 11
During this period of Brigung control of Khojarnath in 13th-14th century, they found patronage in the Buddhist rulers of the Khas Malla kingdom in Western Nepal. The Khas Malla developed a distinctive style of Buddhist sculpture, amalgamating the esthetics of the Kathmandu valley with influences from Pala India due to their contacts with the Pala kingdom, including military incursions in Bodhgaya. [34] The beading of the Pala lotus pedestals is frequent in the Khas Malla sculpture characterized by distinctive crown and earring models, with double or triple strands of coils of beads for necklaces and garment edges, as well as emphasis on the articulations of hands and feet, and less slender bodies. [35] These sculptures were destined for the Buddhist monasteries of Western Himalaya as well as Tibetan sanctuaries where the Khasa Malla kings were patrons, such as Brigung and the Lhasa Jokhang. [36] In the Densatil monastery which during 13th to 14th century was a dependency of Brigung, there were many gilt repoussé reliquaries of the past lineage-holders of Densatil. According to inscriptions copied by Tucci during his visit there, these were carved according to the models of Nepalese art. [37] While the Nepalese models are the inspiration, the figures and deities in the Densatil gilt copper repoussé bas-reliefs and cast sculptures are characterized by energetic dynamic postures and exuberant use of beading to decorate their garments, as well as lavish inlay with semi-precious stones. In the sculpture of the goddess Mahamayuri (Fig. 11, Densatil Goddess), her alidha posture is most striking - the sculptor has utilized the outstretched skirt as a field of jewels of all colors, set in-between beaded stripes. [38] The striking array of colors contrasts with the smooth modeling of the midriff, while the bodice is again adorned in smaller scale stripes of beads and jewels. The dancer exhibits the adaptation of certain jewelry and beading of the Khas Malla sculptures, as well as their more massive body proportions rather than the more relaxed and spiritual poses of the Kathmandu valley. The degree of animation and motion is probably to be understood as an adaption to Tibetan taste. In the opinion of Tucci, the sculptures of the Densatil sanctuary quite probably was the joint collaboration of Tibetan and Nepalese artisans. [39]

Fig. 12
From 1403-1424, the Yunglo Emperor was a keen sponsor of Tibetan Buddhism and gave many sculptures in tribute to his Tibetan teachers. The Yung-lo sculptures constitute an esthetic idiom which combines certain specifically Chinese conventions with the evolution of the Nepalese esthetics imported to Beijing by Aniko and his successors in the Imperial ateliers during the Yuan dynasty. The heavy gilding and strands of beads so characteristic reflect Nepal while the Chinese contribution is the voluminous garments, the three ovoid folds particularly visible in seated sculptures such as Cat. No. 37, Yunglo Padmapani. When the Chapel of the Dharma Kings in the Gyantse monastery was constructed beginning 1424, many Yunglo sculptures had been presented to lamas living in Tibet. It is therefore not surprising to see the influence of the Yunglo esthetic in the treatment of the heavy textiles and folds of the garments of the Dharma kings (see Fig. 12, Gyantse photo). The influence of the Yung lo style is also revealed by the realistic features of certain clay sculptures of Gyantse, as well as the style of the thrones. [40] Due to inscriptions, the names of many painters and sculptors working in Gyantse are recorded for posterity, thus it is sure that the Tibetan sculptor Nam mkha’ bzang po, from Lha rtse, modeled the Chinese style throne as well as the portraits of the Kashmiri and Tibetan Buddhist lamas in the chapel devoted to the Masters of the “second diffusion”.


Fig. 13
During the Yung lo period, in addition to the sculptures of deities and Buddhist masters, a copy was made of a Pala mandala, which probably was brought to Tibet as a present. The Mandala of Vajrabhairava (Cat. No. 71) is a virtually perfect copy of the original in terms of carving, yet in terms of metallurgical technique, the Pala model quite probably was not gilded, nor did it have the Yung lo reign mark! In Chinese Buddhist art during the Yunglo period and throughout the Ming dynasty, such sculptures may be perfect replicas, while during the Ching dynasty, the taste developed for sculptures which were copies which emulate the original but adapt certain features, for example, a copy of an ancient Kashmiri Buddha seated on a cushion of roundel fabrics (see above and Cat. No. 80), yet in the 18th century copy, a dragon in relief is the center of the roundel rather than copper or silver inlay as the original statue. [41] In Tibet, we have already examined the principle of copies of certain sacred images. There was also, as of the 14th century, evidence of antiquarian taste. The Prince of Gyantse ordered a silver Tara in Indian style as a memorial to his wife in 1359. [42] This is also exemplified by Taranatha, a Tibetan historian of the 16th century, who commissioned a sculpture of Jambhala, the god of wealth, in the Pala style from a Newar sculptor in Tibet. [43] The differentiation of the work of Tibetan and Newar sculptors in Tibet is complex. Certains factors are generally recognized as Nepalese stylistic traits, for example, gilt copper alloys rather than non-gilt brass alloys, use of glass and semi-precious stones rather than turquoise. A distinctive factor is the casting of sculptures in silver, which we have observed in the Three Silver Brothers, a sculpture which exhibits Nepalese esthetic features yet it is cast in silver, and silver was not used in Kathmandu valley works of art. [44] A silver portrait of a lama (Fig. 13, Silver Lama), created in 1476 for a monastery near Lhasa, may be related to Nepalese taste due to the heavy beaded edge of the garment and the gentle play with the folds of fabric, yet by inscription it is certain that it represents a Tibetan lama. [45] If indeed it was made by a Nepalese working in Tibet, as such, it indicates the flexibility of Nepalese artists who adapted their metallurigical techniques and alloys to work with silver which corresponded to Tibetan taste. Alternatively, it may be a sculpture made by a Tibetan sculptor who emulated the Nepalese esthetic paradigms in his portrait.

Thus far we have examined esthetic developments and fusion in Tibetan sculpture from the 7th to the 15th century. In the following centuries, on the whole, the Tibetan sculptors further refined their skills and persisted in the stylistic models reflecting diverse degrees of influence from different regions. Certain individual sculptors so esteemed ancient sculptures that their own sculptures reinterpret the ancient styles. The Tenth Karma pa (1604-1674) was an exceptional artist who was so inspired by the sculptures of 7th century Swat that he revived this style. [46] Tibetan appreciation of the ancient workmanship lead to the vast accumulation of sculptures in the monasteries, while simultaneously, the desire to generate positive karma stimulated new productions.

Fig. 14
As a last example, to consider a different manner of esthetic adaptation of foreign elements, we may examine this sculpture of a Buddha and its prabhamandala. (Fig. 14, Reconsecrated Statue). At first, the viewer apprehends a ca.8th-9th century Kashmiri or Gilgit sculpture of a seated Buddha on his throne. The Buddha is represented according to the classical esthetic mode of this period, yet the face has the gold paint and pigments indicative of Tibetan consecration practices. Further observation reveals that the prabhamandala is finely worked in gilt copper repoussé and corresponds to Nepalese models with a garuda at the apex. At the base of the throne, there is a carefully carved inscription in Tibetan letters. Indeed the inscription informs us that in 1663-64, to commemorate the death of the Mustang Raja Amgon Bsam grub rab brtan, his grand-daughter commissioned the Nepalese sculptor Suryajyoti to sculpt the exquisite torana to adorn this most precious statue of the Buddha as it was reconsecrated for the benefit of all sentient beings. [47] This sculpture, therefore, represents a juncture of Tibetan Buddhist ritual practices which revere the ancient statue and renew its spirituality. Simultaneously, this unusual marriage of Kashmiri and Nepalese esthetic models allows us to understand the Tibetan appreciation of each and their culmination as a new esthetic form, an expression of the unique eclecticism which is characteristic of Tibetan sculpture.

all text & images © Amy Heller


1. The gold horses measure x 2.4 cm. These artifacts were first studied in Kaogu 2001/6: 45-47 (Xizang zhizhiqu shannan diqu wenwuju, “Xizang langkarzi xian chajiagou gumuzang de qingli”, reproduced in Heller 2003a, fig. 1. The silver deer (5.6 x 3.5 ) was studied by Xu Xing Guo in Khrung guo zang xue 1994/4:136.

2. Xu Xinguo, chief archeologist, analysed the gilding technique of this reliquary as cladding, a Sogdian technique, rather than fire-mercury gilding commonly found in Tibet and Nepal in Xu, Krung go zang xue 1994/4. See Heller 1998 for photographs of the reliquary (heller 1998, Orientations ).

3. See Backus 1981, p.28, n. 79 for bridge technology; Demiéville, Paul, 1987: Le Concile de Lhasa, Paris (reprint of 1952), p.203 for armour.

4. Pelliot, Paul, 1961: Histoire Ancienne du Tibet, Librairie d’Amérique et d’Orient A. Maisonneuve, Paris, p.6 for the goose ewer; Demiéville, Paul, 1987: Le Concile de Lhasa, Paris (reprint of 1952), p.203 for the ewer and a miniature golden city decorated with animals and men on horseback ; Schaefer, Edward H., 1963: The Golden Peaches of Samarkand, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles: p.254, and note 42 citing Tang Annals’ descriptions of gold objects in Tibet for the years 734, 735, 805, 817, 827, 837 AD.

5. Wangdu, Pasang and Diemberger, Hildegard, 2000: Dba’ bzhed. The Royal Narrative concerning the Bringing of the Buddha’s Doctrine to Tibet, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien.: p.56 and note 166.

6. The Fifth Dalai Lama describes this jar in his Catalogue of the Jokhang written in 1645. For discussion of the silver jug and ancient Tibetan silver vessels, see particularly Carter 1998, as well as Heller 2002 and Heller 2004. Richardson 1998, 254, Carter 1998, 39, fig.14, Heller 2002/2004, Knauer 1998, 101,fig.70, attributed to Tibetan workmanship; Schroeder 2001, 792-795, pl. 190 A-D, attributed this jug to Sogdian workmanship of 8th century.

7. Richardson, Hugh E., 1998: Two Chinese Princesses in Tibet, in: High Peaks, Pure Earth, Collected Writings on Tibetan History and Culture, Hg.: Richardson, H.E., with an introduction by Michael Aris., 207-215, Serindia, London, U.K. , p.208-209, discusses the 7th century Chinese princess, the later weaving of legends about her introduction of Buddhism and construction of temples. He concludes that much of what is attributed to her is more likely to be the activities of the 8th century Chinese princess Kong Jo who was also sent to marry a Tibetan emperor.

8. Lévi, Sylvain, 1905: Le Népal, etude historique d’un royaume hindou, vols. 1-2., Ernest Leroux, Paris., p.163-5. Slusser, Mary S., 1982: Nepal Mandala A Cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley, vol.1-2, Princeton University Press, Princeton, USA, p.39 discusses the Licchavi kings’ practice of Hindu religion as well as non-sectarian patronage, including royal foundations of Buddhist monasteries. Slusser, Mary S., 1982: Nepal Mandala A Cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley, vol.1-2, Princeton University Press, Princeton, USA, p.33-34 explains the improbability of the Tibetan tradition of a marriage alliance with a Nepalese princess. Although this tradition is regarded as fact today, this Nepalese princess is unknown in either ancient Nepalese or Tibetan historic sources prior to the 11th century.

9. See Slusser, Mary S. and Vajracharya, Gautamvajra, 1973.: Some Nepalese Stone Sculptures: A Reappraisal within their Cultural and Historical Context, In: Artibus Asiae, p.35 (1-2), p.79-138. and Slusser, Mary S., 1982: Nepal Mandala A Cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley, vol.1-2, Princeton University Press, Princeton, USA,, pl. 376

10. Weldon, David, 2000: Tibetan Sculpture Inspired by Earlier Foreign Sculptural Styles. In: Oriental Art46 (2), 47-56., p.49, fig. 8 draws attention to this alignment of legs in Licchavi art.

11. Siudmak, John, 2000. The Development of the Classical Buddha Image from Kashmir, and some Observations on Kashmirian Influence on the Sculpture of West Tibet. In: Oriental Art 46 (2), figs. 3, 4. and for the most thorough study see Hinüber, Oskar von, 2004: Die Palola Sahis, Ihre Steinischriften, inschriften auf bronzen, handscriftenkolophone und schutzzauber. Materialien zur Geschichte von Gilgit und Chilas. Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Mainz, 2004. I thank Professor Oskar von Hinüber for correspondence on the chronology of these statues.

12. Klimburg, Maximilian, 1982: The Setting: The Western Trans-Himalayan Crossroads ,in: The Silk Route and The Diamond Path, Hg.: Klimburg –Salter, Deborah. UCLA Art Council, Los Angeles, USA, 24-37. for Trans-Himalayan routes; Heller, Amy, 1998: Two Inscribed Fabrics and their Historical Context: Some Observations on Esthetics and Silk Trade in Tibet, 7th to 9th Entlang der Seidenstrasse. Frühmittelalterliche Kunst zwischen Persien und China in der Abegg-Stiftung. Hg: Otavsky, Karel. Riggisberger Berichte 6, Riggisberg, Schweiz, 95-118. for Tibet and silk trade; Sims-Williams, Nicolas, 1996: The Sogdian Merchants in China and India , in: Cina e Iran da Alessandro Magno alla dinastia Tang,Hg.: Cadonna, Alfredo and Lanciotti, Lionello, Leo S. Olschki Editore, Firenze, 45-67. for trade from Sogdiana to India.

13. I am indebted to Professor Pasang Wangdu for photographs of this stele which he discovered in 1985. See discussion in Heller, Amy, 1998: Two Inscribed Fabrics and their Historical Context: Some Observations on Esthetics and Silk Trade in Tibet, 7th to 9th Entlang der Seidenstrasse. Frühmittelalterliche Kunst zwischen Persien und China in der Abegg-Stiftung. Hg: Otavsky, Karel. Riggisberger Berichte 6, Riggisberg, Schweiz, 95-118., p.113, fig. 51.

14. Vitali, Roberto, 1990: Early Temples of Central Tibet. Serindia Publications, London, p.1-37.

15. Karmay, Heather, 1975: Early Sino-Tibetan Art, Aris and Philips. Warminster., p.4; see also sBa bzhed and Wangdu, Pasang and Diemberger, Hildegard, 2002, p.65.

16. This passage was quoted in Weldon, D. und Singer, Jane Casey, 1999: The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet, Buddhist Art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection, Laurence King, London.: p.14.

17. Alsop, Ian, 1990: Phagpa Lokeshvara of the Potala. In: Orientations Magazine 1998 (Art of Tibet, Selected articles from Orientations 1981-1997), p.81-91, discusses multiple copies of the sacred statue Phagpa Lokeshvara of the Potala; Alsop, Ian, 2000: Copies in Tibetan Sacred Art, Two Examples. In: Oriental Art, N. S. 46(2), 4-13, discusses this statue further as well as another sacred statue.

18. Pal, Pratapaditya, 2003: Himalayas, An Aesthetic Adventure, The Art Institute of Chicago in association with the California Press and Mapin Publishing, Chicago p.85,85 and p.87: Schroeder, 2000, plate 41 B-E; Heller, Amy, 2003: The Three Silver Brothers. In: Orientations 34(4), 28-34.

19. Postel, Michel, 1989. Ear Ornaments of Ancient India, Project for Indian Cultural Studies, Publication 2, Bombay. , pl. V.39, a 9th/10th c. stone Tara in the Patna Museum.

20. I thank John Siudmak for the reference to Foucher, Alfred, 1913. Les Images indiennes de la fortune. In: Mémoires concernant L’Asie Orientale, L’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, Ernest Leroux, Paris, p.123-138., pl. 13.

21. Vitali, Roberto, 1996. The Kingdoms of Pu.hrang according to the mNga’.ris rgyal.rabs by mkhan.chen Ngag.dbang grags pa, Tho.ling gtsug.lag.khagn lo.gcig.ston ‘’i rjes.dran.mdzad sgo’i go.sgrig tshogs.chung, Dharamsala., 313 for the discussion of the artist from Magadha in Toling ca. 1000 AD.

22. Schroeder, Ulrich von, 2001: Buddhist Scultpures in Tibet, 2 Bde., Bd. 1: India & Nepal; Bd. 2: Tibet & China, Visual Dharma Publications, Hongkong, p.330, pl. 111B.

23. Weldon, D. und Singer, Jane Casey, 1999: The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet, Buddhist Art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection, Laurence King, London, p.21-22, notes 22-23, figs. 11-15.

23a. The inscription reads, “ pur pa ‘de sa ho‘i ”, Tibetan transliteration of sorts for pūrvadeśa, “(belonging to) the eastern country”, ie. Eastern India, probably Bengal, where the sculpture may have been made ca. late 11th.

24. Schroeder 1981, 248 details the Muslim raids in India of 11th and 12th century which led the monks to bury images. Huntington/ Huntington 1990 already presented sculptures attributed to Indian workmanship in Tibet, however, they concluded that there was “no detectable wave of artistic influence” after Muslim raids and rather that “the Pala artistic idioms were already so thoroughly integrated into Tibetan culture, and Tibetan knowledge of the Pala idioms was so current, that even a new wave of émigrés did not visibly alter the artistic direction”. However, Tibetan historical sources do not document the constant presence of Indian artists in Tibet. Sporadic references of one or two individual masters are found, but the numerous works attributed to Indian production in Tibet presuppose the existence of several ateliers of Indian artists in Tibet during 12th-13th century, and these are not yet historically documented. Is it not possible that much of the production was by Nepalese artists in Tibet emulating Indian styles? While no evidence of Indian artists settled with ateliers at that time in Tibet is documented at present, there were possibly areas in Bangladesh and E India which were less dismantled than the main areas destroyed further East (to Bihar and Bengal) and in these areas of (present-day) Bangladesh and East India, possibly sculptures might still have been cast. This topic remains to be investigated in the future by art historians, while the historical context of this research on surviving Saiva and Buddhist micro-kingdoms is on-going by Professor Alexis Sanderson (see his forthcoming volume: Religion and the State: Initiating the Monarch in Saivism and the Buddhist Way of Mantras, Heidelberg, Harrasowitz Verlag, Ethno-Indological Series, now in press.)

25. Weldon, D. und Singer, Jane Casey, 1999: The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet, Buddhist Art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection, Laurence King, London, p.61-65, figs. 28-33; Schroeder, Ulrich von, 2001: Buddhist Scultpures in Tibet, 2 Bde., Bd. 1: India & Nepal; Bd. 2: Tibet & China, Visual Dharma Publications, Hongkong, pl. 85 a-e; Huntington/Huntington 1990, fig. 135, attributed to Tibet, late 11th to early 12th century.

26. Martin, Dan, 2001: Painters, Patrons and Paintings of Patrons in Early Tibetan Art, in: Embodying Wisdom, Art, Text and Interpretation in the History of Esoteric Buddhism, Hg.: Linrothe, R. und Sørensen, H., The Seminar for Buddhist Studies Monographs 6, 139-184, Kopenhagen, 142-144.

27. Lo Bue, Erberto, 1997. The role of Newar Scholars in transmitting the Indian Buddhist Heritage to Tibet (c. 750-1200) in: Les Habitants du Toit du Monde. Hg: Karmay, S. and Sagant, P. Société d’Ethnologie, Nanterre, France, 629-658. Newar Scholars, 633 passim.

28. Schroeder, Ulrich von, 2001: Buddhist Scultpures in Tibet, 2 Bde., Bd. 1: India & Nepal; Bd. 2: Tibet & China, Visual Dharma Publications, Hongkong, p.220, pl. VII-6 and pl. 169c

29. See most recently the photographs of Professor Fosco Maraini republished in Lo Bue, Erberto, 1998: Tibet, Templi scomparsi fotografati da Fosco Maraini. Turin.

30. Heller, Amy, 2003: The Silver Jug of the Lhasa Jokhang: Some observations on silver objects and costumes from the Tibetan Empire (7th –9th century). In: Silk Road Art and Archeology 9, p.213-237., 45, figs. 17 and 19 (here 2003 = Grathang article).

31. Heller, Amy, 1999: Tibetan Art, Tracing the Development of Spiritual Ideals and Art in Tibet, 600-2000 A. D., Jaca Book, Antique Collector’s Club, Milano pl.69-70, citing L. van der Kuijp 1995, 922-923, for the identification of the donor.

32. Stoddard, 1985

33. Béguin, Gilles, 1990: Art ésotérique de l’Himâlaya, Catalogue de la donation Lionel Four-nier. Musée national des arts asiatiques Guimet, Paris, p.54, considered Stoddard’s attribution to Aniko as “gratuitous”.

34. Alsop, Ian, 1994 and Alsop, Ian, 1997.

35. Alsop, Ian 1994, fig. 1, and Alsop, Ian, 1997, fig. 50.

36.Roerich, George N. 1996: The Blue Annals, von Gö Lotsawa Zhönu Pal [’gos lo tså ba gzhon nu dpal], Teil 1 & 2, übers. von G. Roerich, Calcutta 1949, Reprint Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, p.580, 583, 584, 607.

37.Tucci, Giuseppe, 1956: To Lhasa and Beyond, Diary of the expedition to Tibet in the year 1948. Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma, p.128; Mele, 1969, for photographs of Densatil during Tucci’s expedition.

38. Pal, Pratapaditya, 2003: Himalayas, An Aesthetic Adventure, The Art Institute of Chicago in association with the California Press and Mapin Publishing, Chicago, p.217-218, pl. 140.

39. Tucci, Giuseppe, 1956: To Lhasa and Beyond, Diary of the expedition to Tibet in the year 1948. Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma, p.128; Pal, Pratapaditya, 2003: Himalayas, An Aesthetic Adventure, The Art Institute of Chicago in association with the California Press and Mapin Publishing, Chicago, p.217 concurs with Tucci’s opinion.

40. Lo Bue, Erberto F. und Ricca, F., 1993: The Great Stupa of Gyantse, A Complete Tibetan Pantheon of the Fifteenth Century, Serindia Publications, London, p.24, and pl. 4 E 2 for the Chinese throne.

41. See Béguin,1993, fig. 5.

42. Lo Bue, Erberto, 1997. Sculptural Styles According to Pema Karpo. in: Tibetan Art Towards a Definition of Style., p.253.

43.Lo Bue, Erberto, 1997. Sculptural Styles According to Pema Karpo. in: Tibetan Art Towards a Definition of Style., p.253.

44.Weldon, D. und Singer, Jane Casey, 1999: The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet, Buddhist Art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection, Laurence King, London, p. 90.

45.The inscription on this sculpture:
" ston pa'i sku 'di gsang phu gling srad (sic) kyi gdan sa pa chos rje shes rab dpal ldan bzang po'i thugs dam du bzhengs."

"this noble sculpture of the teacher was made as the personal image of the Chief Abbot of Sang pu Monastery (gsang phu gling srad kyi gdan sa pa) the Choje Sherab palden zang po (chos rje shes rab dpal ldan bzang po)."

That is what the inscription says, literally.. This sculpture was made for Sherab palden zangpo, the Chief Abbot of the monastery (there were several small monastic residences, he was the head of the whole monastery.) He was still alive in 1476, having ruled already 2 years as chief abbot.

In view of the fact that he had recently assumed the abbot's throne, he had probabl y performed in 1475 the one-year commemoration ceremony of the previous abbot, Sangye Chopa, who had ruled for 14 years until his death. It is a very long reign and he was a great teacher. In my opinion, it is clear that this sculpture represents the teacher Sangye Chos pa and was made to be the personal meditation image of Sherab palden zangpo, to be a reminder of his predecessor and mentor.

The history of the lineage of the abbots of Sangpu monastery is found in Tibetan historic sources, but also in the English translation of one very reliable history book, The Blue Annals. The discussion of Sang pu and the lineage of abbots is page 329 (Roerich 1996, p. 329)

46. Weldon, David, 2000: Tibetan Sculpture Inspired by Earlier Foreign Sculptural Styles. In: Oriental Art 46 (2), p.53-56, figs. 21-28; Schroeder 2001, pl.178 A-C; Schroeder 2001, 796-819, pl. 191-194.

47. The author has studied and translated this inscription as personal research in 2004.

Inscription on statue:
Om svasti/ rmad byung tshogs gnyis chu gter dbus su
'khrungs/ rnam dag byang chub spyod pa'i khams las grub//
'phags sras gser ri'i dbus na nyer mdzes pa// thub dbang rin
chen rdul brtsegs la phyag 'tshal// chos dpal chen 'am mgon
bsam 'grub rab brtan gyi thugs kyi dgongs pa yongsu rdzogs
par gyur zhing/ bdag nyi zla ma bu 'khor dang bcas pa la
mchog thun mong gi dngos grub ma lus pa brtsal du gsol// bzo
rig bal po bzo su dza 'dzo tri sogs dbang po ' grangs can kyis sgrubs// bkra shis//

Translation :
Om Svasti.

To honor the memory* of the glorious Ah mgon bSam grub rab brtan, in the hopes that Nyi Zla mother and child(ren) and all sentient beings may attain the superior and the mundane levels of spiritual realization, the Nepalese workmanship (i.e. the creation of the prabha) is the achievement of the master artist Su Dza dzo ti** , the sculptor of infinite prowess.

May there be praise to Buddha who is most precious***, (he who is) the noble son in the center of the golden mountain of beautiful offerings, he who has totally perfected the practices leading to enlightment as the result of the karma of birth in the center of the ocean combining the two excellent conditions ( = wealth and religion, ie. Shakyamuni Buddha was born as prince Siddhartha and he had religious aspirations). May there be happiness!

Notes :
* literally, « to completely fulfill the intentions or spirituel aspiriations, » in analogy to the Buddha whose death was his mahaparinirvana. Thus this is an idiomatic expression, it means « to die ». so when an image is made in complete fulfillment of the person's desires, it means that it is an image made soon after the person's death, usually for the one year commemorative ceremony.

** Gautam Vajracarya suggests this is a transliteration of Surya Jyoti, a common Newar name, particularly for the Udas; Dan Martin suggest the possibility of Sujana Jyoti. My thanks to them both.

*** literally, the mighty sage of precious particles all piled up together.