Seated Tsongkhapa
16th century
Gilt bronze
19.5 cm (7 ¾ in)

Casting the Divine: Sculptures of the Nyingjei Lam Collection, Rubin Museum of Art, New York (2012–13)

Stable as a Mountain: Gurus in Himalayan Art, Rubin Museum of Art, New York (13 March–13 July 2009)

Wutaishan: Pilgrimage to Five Peak Mountain, Rubin Museum of Art, New York (10 May-16 October 2007)

Arte Buddhista Tibetana: Dei e Demoni dell' Himalaya, Palazzo Bricherasio, Turin (June–September 2004)

The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet: Buddhist Art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (October-December 1999)


K. Debreczeny, "Wutai Shan: Pilgrimage to Five-Peak Mountain" in Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, issue 6 (December 2011), cat. 20

Weldon, D. and Casey Singer, J., The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet: Buddhist Art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection (London: Laurence King Pub, 1999), fig. 62, pp. 144

J. Watt, Himalayan Art Resources (, no. 68479

F. Ricca, Arte Buddhista Tibetana: Dei e Demoni dell' Himalaya (Turin: Mondadori Electa, 2004), fig. IV.62, p. 206.

This sculpture is a fine example of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of venerating their teachers through portraiture. Portraits of religious masters were commissioned during their lifetime and afterwards by pupils or followers as a type of religious support. The importance of this artistic genre lies in the fact that each religious master represents a link within an unbroken spiritual lineage starting in India, in which oral teachings are at least as important as texts in the transmission of the doctrine.

Tsongkhapa (1357–1419) was the founder of the Gelukpa order of Tibetan Buddhism. His order, initially known as the new Kadampas (acknowledging his debt to the eleventh-century reformer, Atīśa), and then as Gelukpa (Followers of Virtuous Acts), emphasised improved monastic discipline in an effort to stem the tide of continually burgeoning sectarianism. Tsongkhapa brought many small groups under his wing and he de-emphasised the political authority of charismatic individuals, arguing instead for religious institutions based on textual authorities.

Tsongkhapa is depicted here seated in full lotus position with his two legs interlocked. He is clad in a cape and voluminous patchwork robe, indicated by incised lines to indicate the panels of the patchwork, the fold of which spread across his legs. The hems of his robe and cape are decorated with delicately incised floral motifs. His hands are held in front of his chest is dharmacakra mudra, a teaching gesture. His face bears idiosyncratic features, including prominent ears and a particularly muscular neck. The gentle countenance is imparted by slight features on his round face: his closed eyes covered by heavy eyelids, his thin and rounded eyebrows and a gentle touch of a smile.