Tibet (a Kadampa monastery)
Distemper on cloth
19 1/2 x 13 15/16 in. (49.5 x 35.4 cm)
Gift of The Kronos Collections, 1993 (1993.479)
This distinctive portrait is of Atisha (9851054), an abbot of one of the great Indian monastic universities who agreed to visit Tibet to help revitalize Buddhism after its decline following ninth-century persecutions. Atisha's arrival was one of the seminal events of the "Second Diffusion" of Buddhism and his impact on the practice of Buddhism in Tibet was enormous. He was largely responsible for the growth of monasticism and the primacy of the guru-student relationship which insured the pure passage of doctrine. He ultimately spent the last twelve years of his life in Tibet, traveling around western and central Tibet giving lectures and teachings to both lay practitioners and monks until his death in 1054.
Atisha holds a long, thin palm-leaf manuscript with his left hand, which probably symbolizes one of the many important texts he wrote, and he makes the gesture of teaching with his right hand. This tangka is one of two earliest Tibetan portraits, both datable by inscriptions to the late eleventh century and both of which depict the human sitters as deities surrounded by haloes and seated on Indian-style thrones.