16. Yogin
(cat. pl. 32)
c, 12th-13th centuries
Copper alloy
h. 24 cm


That this exceptional sculpture was made in Tibet is evident particularly from the manner in which the face is rendered. The heavily hooded eyes, with deeply incised pupils and sweeping brows, and the full lips are comparable to those in a sculpture of Jambhala in this collection (pl. 18), which can confidently be attributed to Tibet. Moreover, the very lightly incised lines denoting the petals of the lotus bud,334 the stem of which is held in the yogin's right hand, and the metal alloy, are indications of Tibetan manufacture.335 The back of the torso displays a rectangular opening that was once covered by a consecration plate, and serves as further evidence of a Tibetan provenance.

The iconography of this work, however, is less certain. It is highly unusual for a Tibetan image to be naked and poised in this stance; compelling iconographic parallels have not been found. The corpulent figure holds a lotus flower and a ritual water pot (chiluk). The elongated, pierced earlobes and the lightly engraved mark between the brows (urna) are physical signs (laksana) of the subject's spiritual nature. The nakedness of the figure and its rounded, unmuscular limbs are features one associates with representations of the infant Buddha.336 However, a sparse, closely shaved beard that can be discerned around the jaw line and below the lower lip337 would seem to exclude this interpretation. The wide-eyed, mesmerizing expression is comparable to that found in Tibetan images of yogins,338 and it is likely that this figure represents a medieval yogic practitioner, whose mastery of the practice of generating inner heat (tumo) made clothing unnecessary. The identification of this figure as a yogin is supported by the presence of a water pot, a standard iconographic attribute of Indian sages.339 Regardless of the precise identity of the subject, the artist has rendered this image with impressive sculptural qualities in what was, for a Tibetan, a rare opportunity to represent the naked human form. (cat. pl. 32)

334. See fig. 59, a mirror exhibiting the fine and lightly incised lines typical of Tibetan workmanship.
335. It may be noted that when one sees a brassy copper alloy in eastern Indian sculpture, the only other possible provenance for this work, such works tend to be made of a yellower brass, e. g. three figures in the British Museum published in Zwalf (1985), figs. 150-2, Uhlig (1995), fig. 46, and fig. 33 in this volume.
336. See a c. sixteenth-century Sino-Tibetan figure of the infant Buddha in the Musée Guimet, published in Schroeder (1981), fig. 150G. Although the Musée Guimet figure is semi-clothed, its full, unmuscular arms and legs are reminiscent of those in this Nyingjei Lam figure.
337. Similar stippling may be found in fig. 59 in this volume.
338. See for example a c. fourteenth-century image of Dampa Sangye in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, published in Pal (1983), S31, p. 106; and a male seated figure in the Ellsworth collection, published in Rhie and Thurman (1991), fig. 8, p. 46 and in Reedy (1996), p. 166.
339. See Huntington and Huntington (1990), p. 163.

images © Nyingjei Lam
text © D. Weldon, Jane C. Singer