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Bronze figure of Milarepa

 

Height: 12.800 cm

Schmitt-Meade Collection
Gift of Johannes Nikolaus Schmitt and Mareta Meade

Asia OA 1992.12-14.21

Room 33: Asia

    Bronze figure of Milarepa

    From Tibet
    18th century AD or earlier

    A Tibetan saint sings from his mountain retreat

    Tibetan art includes the representation of many lamas, teachers and saints among the many images of bodhisattvas and deities. Milarepa ('the cotton clad', about 1040-1123) is one of Tibet's most holy and popular saints, widely revered for his remarkable feats of asceticism (physical self-denial). He is especially remembered for the large number of songs he composed that explained the complexities of Buddhist doctrine in the simple Tibetan language. His followers established the Kargyupa order of Tibetan Buddhism.

    Milarepa can be easily recognized by the right hand held up to his ear. This gesture is used to indicate that he is reciting one of his celebrated poems or songs. He spent much of his life meditating in mountain caves. In the Indian ascetic tradition, he sits on an animal skin. In his left hand is a skull-cup. The use of bone served as a constant reminder of the temporary nature of human existence. The presence of blue azurite in this figure's hair indicates that it has been used for worship. Images of Milarepa have been made in Tibet from around the late fourteenth century. The autobiographical details of his life were later the subject of many tangka paintings.

    R. Fisher, Art of Tibet (Thames and Hudson, 1997)

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