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Brushed with Passion


The Spiritual Master Padmasambhava

14th century
Western Tibet or Ladakh
Copper alloy
H. 23 3/4 in. (60.3 cm); W. 18 3/4 in. (47.6 cm); D. 13 in. (33 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, The Vincent Astor Foundation, Eliot C. Nolen, T. Rowe Price Services, Inc. and Sir Joseph Hotung Gifts; Seymour and The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation Funds, 2012
Accession Number:
  • Description

    This portrait of the Indian mystic Guru Padmasambhava (literally, “lotus born”) is one of the earliest known effigies of the Buddhist saint. He is believed to have gone to Tibet in the late eighth century at the invitation of King Trisong Detsen. There, he became the leading propagator of tantric Buddhism and helped found the Nyingma Order. He became widely revered, popularly known as Guru Rinpoche. Characteristically, he holds a vajra (thunderbolt scepter), symbolizing the clarity of pure Buddhist thought, and a skull cup (kapala), symbolizing detachment. Missing from this work is the khatvanga staff that originally rested across the upper left arm, where a fixture is present.

    The guru sits in cross-legged meditation, revealing rarely seen sandals of a type that may have originated in Central Asia or China. With his slightly tilted head and open expression, he seems accessible, attentive, and spiritually alive. Copper and inlaid silver detailing imbue his expression with heightened sensitivity, while his richly decorated robes, distinctive cloth cap, and distended earlobes distinguish him as a spiritual ruler. Adding further to the sculpture’s importance is the dedicatory inscription from a royal patron named Kunga Gyalpo, an otherwise unknown ruler from Western Tibet or Ladakh.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History