c. 16th century
H. 33.5 W. 27.8 D. 20.4
Private collection, Belgium
Detail: side close up
King Trisong Detsen (ruled 754-c. 797) invited the yogin Padmasambhava to Tibet to establish Buddhism amongst his factional subjects. The guru laid the seeds for the country’s conversion in the building of the monastery of Samye, consecrated around 779, where religious debate began to swing in favour of the Buddhist doctrine over the pre-Buddhist religion. At the time his tantric ways were often at odds with the conservative elements in the hierarchy, but he was nevertheless successful in subduing the widespread opposition to Buddhism, and gained popular support. Regardless of religious school, Tibetans regard Padmasambhava as a father of the faith and as a second Buddha.
The portrait of the master shows him wearing a cap with up-turned lappets and a feather at the crown. He holds the vajra and skull cup, and sits in vajraparyankasana, the diamond position, on a separately made lotus pedestal. The modeling of the sculpture displays an uncommon level of sophistication, the robe subtly revealing the corporeal form beneath. The fall of cloth is well observed as the wide sleeves drape the arms. The colour and patina of the thinly cast bronze are exceptional, and the figure’s intense expression and adamantine poise befit the master’s Tibetan epithet of Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Teacher.
all text & images © 2005 The authors, the photographers and the Ethnographic Museum, Antwerp