Copper alloy with silver and copper inlay
H. 44.0 W. 33.6 D. 25.3
Collection Marcel Nies, Belgium
This fabulous statue depicts a Tibetan lama seated in vajraparyankasana, the diamond position, on a tall double lotus pedestal. It is one of the largest cast metal lama portraits of such high quality to have survived from the period, and was clearly an important commission in honour of a revered teacher. The face is imbued with animation and character, with a piercing expression in his silver-inlaid almond-shaped eyes. His right hand is held palm outwards in the gesture of charity, varadamudra, with the left resting in his lap in the meditation position. He wears the characteristic Tibetan monastic sleeveless jacket tucked into a lower garment gathered and tied with a sash above his portly stomach. A thin robe cloaks the shoulders and wraps tightly around the legs. Both the jacket and outer robe are lavishly inlaid with silver and copper motifs depicting flowers, clouds and auspicious emblems.
of esteemed teachers has a special place in the Tibetan sculptural
tradition, an aspect that began as early as the twelfth century, as
seen in the portrait bronze shown as cat. no. 46. When the portraits
are inscribed with the name of the lama, they can provide an invaluable
means of dating Tibetan sculpture, as the style in which they are
made is unlikely to significantly predate the lifetime of the subject.
Although no such inscription reveals the name of this lama, it is
from such datable portraits that a sixteenth-century date can be determined
for this exceptional Tibetan work of art.1
1 A very similar lama portrait bears a lengthy inscription identifying the subject as the Sakyapa Lowo Khenchen Sonam Lhundrup, Great Abbot of Mustang (Lo Mantang), 1456-1532. The inscription also gives the name of the Tibetan artist and the donor who commissioned the portrait after Sonam Lhundrup’s death; accepted chronology of such works would concur with a c.1532 date; see Sotheby’s, New York, sale 7879, 26 March 2003, lot 59.
all text & images © 2005 The authors, the photographers and the Ethnographic Museum, Antwerp