Seated lama

From Tibet or Ladakh (now part of India and Pakistan)
19th century AD or earlier

Portrait of a Buddhist teacher

In Tibet, as in all Buddhist countries, the Buddhist dharma ('teachings') was in the hands of elders or teachers. From about the tenth century they were known in Sanskrit as gurus and in Tibetan as lamas. These figures of authority attained great power and were considered emanations not only of previous teachers but also of divinities. The Dalai Lama, for example, is believed to be an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. The Tibetan emphasis on the lineage of former teachers led to the frequent use of commemorative portraiture. The major lamas of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism were often depicted in sculpture and painting. These portrait-images of lamas appeared alongside the Buddha or bodhisattva.

The figure is made from painted papier mâché, which is rarely used for religious sculpture in Tibet. It is more closely connected with the traditions of adjacent Ladakh and Kashmir to the west. However, this figure does wear the high, pointed cap that is unique to Tibetan Buddhism. The bright red and orange paint with floral details vividly illustrates the monastic clothing of Tibet, which leave the right shoulder bare. The lama sits on a thin double lotus throne like images of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. He leans on his left hand with his right hand resting on his knee.

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More information

Bibliography

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

Dimensions

Height: 12.500 inches

Museum number

Asia OA 1908.5-15.2

RRI12061

Location

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