Indian and Himalayan Art, including Masterpieces from the Nyingjei Lam Collection

Indian and Himalayan Art, including Masterpieces from the Nyingjei Lam Collection

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 108. The Nyingjei Lam parcel-gilt silver and gilt-copper figure of Milarepa, Tibet, 15th century.

Masterpieces of Tibetan Art from the Nyingjei Lam Collection

The Nyingjei Lam parcel-gilt silver and gilt-copper figure of Milarepa, Tibet, 15th century

Auction Closed

March 21, 04:25 PM GMT


1,500,000 - 1,800,000 USD

Lot Details


The Nyingjei Lam parcel-gilt silver and gilt-copper figure of Milarepa

Tibet, 15th century

西藏 十五世紀 銀局部鎏金密勒日巴像連銅鎏金蓮花座

Himalayan Art Resources item no. 68492.


Height 5 in., 12.8cm

the parcel-gilt silver and gilt-copper figure inscribed along the lotus petal base 'this silver image of Mila[repa], king of the sacred doctrine, was set up at Nyüg Peak by the monk Gagi Wangpo. Through this virtuous act may [all beings] who have been my mother realise the abiding nature of the mind, and may they achieve [the level of] Vajradhara, embodiment of the four Buddha bodies! May good auspices prevail!’ (chos kyi rgyal po mid le[la]’i dngul sku ‘di/ dge slong dga’ gis dbang pos smyug lar gzhengs// dge des mar gyur sems kyi gnas lugs rtogs// sku bzhi’i bdag nyid rdo rje ‘chang thob shog// mang ga lam//)

inscribed on the baseplate 'Homage to the venerable Mila Zhepei Dorje! May my kind mother Sonam Zemo attain Buddhahood!’ (rje mid la gzhad pa rdo rje la na mo/ drin can gyi ma bsod nams bzad mo sngyas [sangs rgyas] thob par gyur cig/)

Art of Tibet. Selected articles from Orientations, 1981-1997, Hong Kong, 1998, cover and back cover.

David Weldon and Jane Casey Singer, The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet: Buddhist Art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection, London, 1999, pl. 43 and cover.

Milarepa (1040-1123) remains one of Tibet’s most charismatic saints, whose biography has inspired generations of devotees. Although he is progenitor of the Kagyu lineage, he is perceived by all orders of Tibetan Buddhism as the archetypal yogin and is held in the highest esteem for his heroic quest for knowledge. Milarepa gained little from his first Buddhist teacher who eventually referred him to a guru named Marpa (1012-1097) from Wheat Valley in Lhodrak. His trials while apprenticed to Marpa are legendary. It seemed to Milarepa that his new guru kept withholding his knowledge, so he left on numerous occasions only to return finding no satisfaction elsewhere. For his persistence he was finally granted the teachings he desperately sought, and henceforth praised his beloved guru Marpa in song and verse. Indeed, over a lifetime Milarepa is famously credited with composing one-hundred-thousand songs.


Milarepa was renowned for wearing only a simple white cotton shawl, living as an ascetic oblivious to the cold. And that is how he is portrayed in this exceptional Tibetan statue, with the cotton shawl draped over the left shoulder revealing his meditation strap (yogapatta) slung across the body. The strap is parcel gilt in subtle contrast to the silver body. Milarepa’s face is painted gold according to Tibetan ritual practice with color highlighting eyes and mouth, the lips opened slightly as if in song. A tightly rolled prayer scroll is inserted in the left earlobe. Milarepa is seated on an antelope skin laid over the lotus pedestal. The richly gilded copper base is inscribed around the circular upper rim. The gilt-copper consecration sealing-plate beneath is intact, and beautifully engraved with a visvavajra and a further two-line inscription.


This exquisite silver image and gilt copper pedestal are cast in a pure south central Tibetan style that is fully formed by the fifteenth century. Unmistakably Tibetan in its iconography and style, the sculpture nevertheless incorporates foreign sculptural traditions that have been absorbed by Tibetan artists and patrons over centuries. The color combination of silver figure on a gilded copper base is a sculptural device originating in eastern India during the Pala period (8th-12th century), seen in the silver Maitreya in the Cleveland Museum of Art (fig. 1), see Weldon and Casey Singer, David Weldon and Jane Casey Singer, The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet: Buddhist Art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection, London, 1999, figs. 15 and 16. Examples of this elegant and innovative Pala style were brought to Tibet where they served as inspiration to local artists. The style of the slim and elegant lotus petals on the gilt copper base are reminiscent of the smaller Yongle period (1403-1424) imperial bronzes bequeathed in large numbers to Tibetan hierarchs and monasteries, such as the four-armed Manjushri in the British Museum, see Heather Karmay, Early Sino-Tibetan Art, Warminster, 1975, p. 87, fig. 54, and another four-armed Manjushri sold in these rooms, 20th March 2018, lot 107, and now in the collection of Tsz Shan Monastery Buddhist Art Museum, Hong Kong, accession no. 2018.05 (fig. 2). Local artists would have been well aware of these treasures from China. Thus the diverse influences on a pure Tibetan sculptural style are evident in this silver masterpiece representing Tibet’s cultural hero, Milarepa.

Having finally attained his long-sought goal of spiritual awakening after years of difficult apprenticeship with Marpa, Milarepa writes adoring praise of his master. In the words of the early twentieth-century Tibetan scholar Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup translating from the saint’s biography: ‘As for myself, I have not the means to recompense thee, my Guru and Reverend Mother [Damema, Marpa’s wife] — my benefactors; your loving kindness is beyond my power to repay by any offer of worldly wealth or riches. So, I will repay you by a lifelong devotion to meditation, and I will complete my final study of your Teachings in the “Og-min Heaven”,’ see Evans-Wentz, ed., Tibet’s Great Yogi Milarepa, London, 1928, R 1958, p. 143. Milarepa then recites a poem to his guru and his wife, referring to Marpa as Lord and as the great Dorje Chang (Vajradhara, the celestial progenitor of the Kagyu order), and to Damema as Mother of all Buddhas.


           To my Guru, the Great Dorje-Chang,

           To Damema, the Mother of All Buddhas,

           And to all Princes Royal, the Avataras

           I make as offering, to Their ears, this essence of my learning gleaned.


           If there be heresy or error in my speech,

           I pray that They will kindly pardon it,

           And set me then upon the Righteous Path.


           Lord, from the sun-orb of Thy Grace,

           The radiant Rays of Light have shone,

           And opened wide the petals of the Lotus of my Heart,

           So that it breatheth forth the fragrance born of Knowledge,

           For which I am forever bounden unto Thee;

           So will I worship Thee by constant meditation.

           Vouchsafe to bless me in mine efforts,

           That good may come to every sentient being.

           Lastly, I ask forgiveness, too, for any lavishness of words. ibid


At the end of this recitation, Milarepa notes ‘My Guru was delighted, and said, ‘My son, I had expected much from thee; my expectations have been fulfilled.” ibid., pp. 143-4.


 此銀像連鎏金銅座鑄於西藏中南部,風格純粹,十五世紀已成規制。形象及風格雖為西藏典型,毋庸置疑,然亦融入外來造像傳統——由西藏匠人及供養人經數百年汲取而成。銀身置於鎏金銅座,輝彩協調,乃溯至東印度帕拉王朝(8至12世紀),可比克利夫蘭藝術博物館所藏銀身彌勒像(圖一),見Weldon and Casey Singer,《The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet: Buddhist Art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection》,倫敦,1999年,頁22-23,圖15、16。此類帕拉風格新雅,傳入西藏後對當地造匠影響深遠。鎏金銅座蓮瓣修長,與中土永樂朝(1403-1424年)御製造像神似;永樂造像更為精小,曾大量獻入西藏,獻諸高僧及寺院,如大英博物館藏四臂文殊像,錄Heather Karmay,《Early Sino-Tibetan Art》,沃敏斯特,1975年,頁87,圖54。當地造匠熟諳中土寶像,此尊西藏造銀身密勒日巴像可謂集大成作。