PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
Amy Heller, 'Chronological Study of Dated Sculptures from Tibet and the Himalayas, 7th-17th Century', Oriental Art, vol. 46 (2), 2000, p. 21, figs 22a and 22b.
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 Karmapa and Shamarpa lineages. Another silver portrait figure illustrated in David Weldon and Jane Casey Singer, The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet: Buddhist Art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection, London, 1999, p. 188-9, pl. 48, depicts Mikyo Dorje, the Eighth Karmapa Lama. Of identical size to the current figure, it also demonstrates very close similarities in the precise style of the casting, the treatment of the face, crown, drapery and cushion. Clearly it is by the same artisan. Another silver portrait lama of the same size and identical style, illustrated by Amy Heller, 'Chronological Study of Dated Sculptures from Tibet and the Himalayas, 7th-17th Century', Oriental Art, vol. 46 (2), 2000, p. 21, figs 18a and 18b, depicts the Ninth Karmapa. What is important is that the inscription on the figure of the Ninth Karmapa, similarly incised on the reverse of the cushion as on the current figure, not only names the subject but also the maker, stating that it was created by Karma Rinchen. Its remarkable similarity to the current figure and the Nyingjei Lam Karmapa Lama, all clearly by the same hand, enables a confident identification of the artist, a rare occurrence in Tibetan lama portraiture.
For another silver portrait lamas by Karma Rinchen, see an inscribed figure of Chokyi Wangchuk, the Sixth Shamarpa Lama, from the Jokhang/Tsuglakhang collection in Lhasa, depicting the sixth Shamarpa Chökyi Wangchuk, illustrated in Ulrich von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Vol. II, Tibet and China, Hong Kong, 2001, p. 1218, pl. 336A-C. Compare also a silver portrait lama of the Sixth Shamarpa Lama illustrated in Karl Debreczeny, The Black Hat Eccentric: Artistic Visions of the Tenth Karmapa, New York, 2012, pp. 66-67, fig. 2.1, and sold in our New York rooms, 15th March 2017, lot 221. The tulkus of the Shamarpa and Karmapa lineages have had a historical relationship of spiritual mentorship and reciprocity since the late 13th century.
Thongwa Donden (1416-1453), the Sixth Karmapa Lama, head of the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism, was born in Kham. He dedicated his life to composing tantric rituals, printing books and restoring many monasteries in Tibet. A 16th century thangka in the Rubin Museum of Art, accession no. F1997.39.2 (fig. 1) shows him seated next to Jampal Zangpo, with his hands held to the heart in the mudra of teaching, wearing his distinctive hat.
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