H. Uebach and J. L. Panglung, "A Silver Portrait of the 6th Źwa-dmar Karma-pa (1584-1630)", in B. Kellner et al. eds. Pramanakirtih: Papers Dedicated to Ernst Steinkellner on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday, Vol. II, Vienna, 2007, p. 975-988.
The double-peaked headdress of Chökyi Wangchuk is adorned at center with a vishvavajra surmounted by a sun and crescent moon. On either peak of the headdress are scrolling cloud motifs. Chökyi Wangchuk is seated crosslegged on a rectangular plinth covered in four layers of cloth or rugs. He wears the robes of a monk, arranged and draped with precision: the dhonka or cap-sleeved shirt; the shemdap or long skirt folded at the upper waist; the patchwork chogu worn on top of the dhonka and draped over the left shoulder; and the zhen or heavy outer robe, depicted here slung low around the waist, the fabric gathered around the legs in graceful pleats. He hold a bumpa or vase in the left hand lowered at his lap, with the right hand raised in dharmachakra mudra or the gesture of teaching.
On the back of the plinth upon which the Shamarpa is seated is a Tibetan inscription which has been translated by H. Uebach and J. L. Panglung as follows:
Reverence to the portrait of the Gyalwa [Shamarpa], the sixth bearer of the head ornament, the Red Hat, the glorious Garchen Chökyi Wangchuk, the statue blessed by the lord himself with [grains of] barley.
Below this inscription, on the lower right, is a further annotation of the weight of the sculpture, which has been translated as: 26 ½ sang [i.e. of silver alloy]. A sang was a Tibetan unit used to measure weight, particularly gold and silver, and was equivalent to the Chinese liang.
Silver sculpture in Tibetan antiquity was created at great expense and as such, was significantly less common than casting in bronze. Based on published examples of Tibetan silver sculpture in private collections and public collections, silver appears to have been a favored medium of the Shamarpa and Karmapa lineages; compare the drapery of the robes, the seated position, and the rectangular plinth with identifying verso inscription of the current work with another silver figure of similar size depicting the eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje, see D. Weldon and J. Casey, The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet: Buddhist Art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection, 1999, pp. 188-189, pl. 48.
Based upon the above inscription, it can be inferred that the current work was created in the early seventeenth century before 1630, the year in which Chökyi Wangchuk passed away, as the inscription notes that the sculpture was personally blessed by Chökyi Wangchuk with traditional grains of barley.
The current work also shares many similar characteristics to another silver sculpture from the Jokhang/Tsuglakhang collection in Lhasa, depicting the sixth Shamarpa Chökyi Wangchuk, see U. von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Vol. II, Tibet and China, Hong Kong, 2001, p. 1218, pl. 336A-C. Both sculptures are approximately the same size, and share similar architecture, proportion and style. In both works, the Shamar is seated upon a low, rectangular platform covered by several layers of cloth. Of particular note on the verso of each sculpture is the similarity of the unique crescent-shaped upper robes, the pleats of both which cascade down and upon the platform base.
The inscriptions at the verso of each sculpture, incised on the platform verso, both note that each work was blessed by the hand of sixth Shamarpa. Per Uebach and Panglung, the biography of the sixth Shamarpa references a number of sculptures made in his likeness which were consecrated by the lama himself. While it is not possible to determine whether either of these sculptures are those which were referenced in the biography of Chökyi Wangchuk, we do know that the practice of consecrating images in his likeness as described in the Shamar hagiography supports the inscriptions.
The tulkus of the Shamarpa and Karmapa lineages have had a historical relationship of spiritual mentorship and reciprocity since the late thirteenth century. Like his spiritual disciple the tenth Karmapa Chöying Dorje (see lot lots 222 and 223), Chökyi Wangchuk was also a painter and sculptor, and his biography cites numerous works of art which he created throughout his travels across Tibet, India and Nepal in his short lifetime. For a detailed discussion on the artistic training and accomplishments of both the sixth Shamarpa and tenth Karmapa, see K. Debreczeny, The Black Hat Eccentric: Artistic Visions of the Tenth Karmapa, New York, 2012, pp. 67-69.
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