He commissioned the construction of two of the world's most awe-inspiring edifices: the Potala palace, his headquarters and monastery; and the Lukhang, his private meditation temple built within a man-made lake, illustrated with very finely executed seventeenth century esoteric wall murals. He also is credited with engineering the demise of the aristocratic military hegemony by forcing their residency in Lhasa and bestowing key political positions upon them. Thus power was centralized in the capital under the direct auspices of Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, establishing the dynastic government that survived in Tibet until 1959.
Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso was politically astute and an outstanding statesman, and also a prolific author of works on philosophy, meditation, history and poetry. For example, the exquisite 'Gold Manuscript' now in the Musée Guimet is a record of his tantric visions that reveal a complex understanding of Tibetan Buddhist ritual. For further discussion, see Samten Gyaltsen Karmay, Secret Visions of the Fifth Dalai Lama, London, 1988.
This elegant gilt-bronze figure of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama presents a compelling portrait of the celebrated seventeenth century Tibetan leader. Great attention has been given to this portrait, such as sensuous modeling of the face and figure; the use of elaborate chasing to show the richness of the Great Fifth's robes, embroidered with dragons and foliate motifs; the distinctly recognizable oval-shaped face with wide eyes, the pointed moustache and receding hairline, the imposing girth of his figure. Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso’s right hand is raised in vitarka mudra, and the left hand rests in his lap–a visible prong protrudes from the left palm, which likely would have held an oblong religious manuscript, per tradition. Also note the spectacularly fine detail with which the hands and fingernails have been cast.
An inscription on the throne back of the sculpture reads:
This statue of the great, omniscient, powerful and victorious Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso was commissioned as an object of faith by Je Lingpa Samdrup Gyalpo in Lhasa. This statue contains the relics of the Tathagata beings, blessed substances from the holy masters of Tibet and India, and mantras of the four classes of Tantra. The statue was consecrated by the victorious powerful same ... Sarva za yantu!
Compare the facial characteristics of the current work to two other seventeenth century sculptures, see an ungilt bronze sculpture of Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (acc.no. 50.3606); and also a polychromed wood sculpture of Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso previously exhibited at the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zürich (2005) and sold at Sotheby’s New York, 19th March 2008, lot 312.
For other portraits and a thorough discussion of the life and works of Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, see ed. Martin Brauen, The Dalai Lamas: a Visual History, Chicago, 2005, pp 64—91.
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