Lot 920
  • 920


800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
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  • Distemper on cloth
  • 93 x 72 cm
the master with closely cropped black hair, hands in dharmachakra mudra holding a lotus stem with a flaming triratna, and dressed in a red patchwork robe and cloak of golden floral patterned cloth, seated on a multi-coloured lotus supported on a lion and elephant throne draped with a floral patterned altar cloth, a green cushion behind with red foliate pattern resting against a torana with makara emerging from the cosmic ocean, a halo framing the face of the lama, a diminutive kneeling Achala to the left and Amitabha to the right holding a patra, with the bodhisattva Maitreya standing to the left of the hierarch holding a nagakesara flower, Avalokiteshvara to the right with the stem of a white lotus, an assembly of Indian pandita wearing red caps, Tibetan monks and a Tibetan layman wearing a white robe in the register to the left, Tibetan monks to the right and in the registers around the halo, with Buddha, Maitreya and Indian pandita in the upper register, Mahakala, Vajravidarana, Shadakshari Avalokiteshvara, Vasudhara and Ganapati in the lower register, a lama in adoration with hands in anjali mudra and holding a lotus flower with ratna to the right, with offerings of conch shells, a golden stupa, fly whisks, fruit, seeds, jewels, torma and butter lamps, all within a geometric multi-coloured stylised lotus petal border Himalayan Art Resources item no. 19822.


“Himalayas: An Aesthetic Adventure”, The Art Institute of Chicago, 5 April-17 August 2003; and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., 18 October 2003-11 January 2004.


Amy Heller, Tibetan Art: Tracing the Development of Spritual Ideals and Art in Tibet, Milan, 1999, cat. no. 62 Pratapaditya Pal, Himalayas: An Aesthetic Adventure, Chicago, 2003, cat. no. 120

David Jackson, Mirror of the Buddha: Early Portraits from Tibet, New York, 2011, p. 39, fig. 2.3


The skin tone in areas of forehead, face and right arm consolidated and toned in. The black hair strengthened. The gold in the halo strengthened in areas and red halo around the face strengthened in areas. A stain to the left of the main figure running through bodhisattva on left and Acala above, discoloring the surface and resulting in loss of pigment in red and green cushion to the left of the main figure. Creases and losses throughout. Some consolidation of the halos in figures in the upper registers. Lower registers unrestored. The left third and right corner of the black line delineating top of lotus seat consolidated.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

This important thangka is one of the larger early paintings depicting the Tibetan masters that helped spread Buddhist doctrine during the Chidar, the “Later Diffusion” of the Buddhist faith, corresponding to the period c. 1000-1200. The figures wearing simple red cloth garments and red caps with long lappets — that fill most of the upper and left hand registers — represent the Indian gurus to whom the Tibetans turned in their quest for Buddhist teachings. Indian artistic influence, furthermore, is apparent throughout the painting. The principal stylistic source of early Tibetan Lama portrait paintings was the aesthetic tradition of eastern India during the Pala dynasty (c. 750-1199), cf. the bulk, posture and flowing scarf of Mahakala with the Krodha deities depicted in an eastern Indian or Indian influenced painting of Ushnishavijaya, and the costume and posture of the bodhisattvas in an Amoghasiddhi, both in the Kronos Collection, see Steven M. Kossak and Jane Casey Singer, Sacred Visions: Early Paintings from Central Tibet, New York, 1998, cat. nos. 4, 6, where stylistic influence from eastern India is discussed at length, ibid. pp. 32-40. This well published painting has accumulated commentary from a number of scholars. David Jackson has suggested the thangka dates to ca 1200 and speculates that the Indian master Atisha (982-1054) and his closest Tibetan disciple Dromtön (1005-1064) appear within the lineage, and that the hierarch was thus a master of the Kadam school, see David P. Jackson, Mirror of the Buddha: Early Portraits from Tibet, New York, 2011, p. 38. Dr. Pal also speculates that the thangka was painted ca 1200 for a Kadampa patron at the Kadam monastery of Narthang, founded in 1153, see Pratapaditya Pal, Himalayas: An Aesthetic Adventure, Chicago, 2003, p. 184. Amy Heller in Tibetan Art, Milan, 1999, p. 85, notes a similarity with a large thirteenth century inscribed portrait of Zhang ston Chos kyi bLama who was the Fifth Abbot of Narthang from 1234 to 1244, see Jane Casey Singer, “Painting in Central Tibet, ca. 950-1400”, in Artibus Asiae, Zurich, 1994, vol. 54 1/2, pp. 87-136, fig. 24. Compare a Kadam master with hands in dharmachakra mudra and gazing to his right in the Michael J. and Beata McCormick Collection, see Jackson, op. cit. p. 74, Fig. 3.5. Jackson suggests that a lama holding a staff in the McCormick painting — seated in the second register down to the left, next to Shakyamuni Buddha — might be identified as Dromtön’s disciple Potowa (1027-1105), who is said in some sources to have walked with a staff. Potowa’s presence would indicate the painting portrays a Kadam lineage transmitted by Dromtön, ibid p. 75. A lama in the present painting — seated directly above the makara to the right of the master’s halo — holds a staff in much the same manner and may also represent Potowa, supporting evidence for a Kadam attribution. The triratna on a lotus held in the master’s hands is an unusual attribute, and not seen as a personal attribute elsewhere in early lineage paintings. Although the symbol commonly refers to the Buddhist trinity of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, it may in this instance be relevant to his school and that of the lineage depicted throughout the painting. Earlier, Amy Heller had tentatively identified the master as Drigung Kyoppa Jigten Gönpo, noting similar iconography in the portrayal of the lama and emphasis on the ratna symbol in other Drigungpa paintings, see “A Thang ka Portrait of ’Bri  gung rin chen dpal, ’Jig rten gsum mgon (1143-1217)” in Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies 1 (October 2005). The symbol is seen in the textile design of the robe and throne cloth of Drigung Kyoppa Jigten Gönpo in a thirteenth century painting, ibid, and Jackson, op. cit, p. 155, fig. 5.21, and features throughout a portrait of the Drigung hierarch in the Pritzker Collection, forming the structure of the throne, as well as the textile design of the throne cloth, ibid, fig. 5.25. No inscriptional evidence, however, categorically confirms the identity of the master in the present painting, or his affiliation to a particular order. His revered status, nevertheless, is without question. Bodhisattvas standing in adoration at either side confer a state of Buddhahood upon the master. The lama’s seat is empowered and protected with mythical animals in niches below and makara in the torana above, replicating the thrones of the celestial pantheon. This richly symbolic iconographic setting illustrates the reverence in which the master was held.