One of the highlights from Sotheby’s upcoming selling exhibition, Footsteps of the Buddha: Masterworks from Across the Buddhist World, this rare and extraordinarily preserved 15th-century thangka painting from West Tibet depicts Lama Tsongkhapa, the mastermind behind the spiritual renaissance of medieval Tibet. Esoteric in nature, a thangka is a didactic tool and a highly complex iconographical distillation of the dharma—the teachings of the Buddha. Each colour, figure, ritual attribute and architectural element is a symbolic expression of different aspects of the enlightened mind, designed for contemplation on the profound nature of reality. Sotheby’s specialist Jacqueline Dennis illuminates the iconographical subtleties and historico-mythical figures that adorn this exceptional work of art.


A Thangka depicting Lama Tsongkhapa,
West Tibet, 15th century. Distemper on cloth
91.4 by 78.7 cm.; 36 by 31 in.
Price on request


Footsteps of the Buddha: Masterworks from Across the Buddhist World
3–23 September 2013


The historical Buddha Shakyamuni appears at top centre to signify the unbroken oral transmission of the Buddhist teachings from guru to student.



Tsongkhapa’s hands are raised in front of his heart in dharmachakra mudra, the gesture of explaining the Buddhist teachings.



The enlightened beings Manjushri and Maitreya, flanking the central figure, represent the two philosophical streams which Tsongkhapa famously united.



Akshobhyavajra Guhyasamaja and his consort Adhiprajña, shown here in ecstatic embrace, symbolise the blissful union of wisdom and compassion.



The anonymous donor who commissioned this painting made the traditional ritual offerings of butter lamps and precious jewels to Tsongkhapa and his divine retinue.