Portrait of the Indian Monk Atisha

Date: early to mid-12th century

Culture: Tibet

Medium: Distemper and gold on cloth

Dimensions: Image: 19 1/2 x 13 15/16 in. (49.5 x 35.4 cm)
Framed: 32 13/16 x 21 11/16 in. (83.3 x 55.1 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Gift of Steven Kossak, The Kronos Collections, 1993

Accession Number: 1993.479


Atisha was the abbot of Vikramashila monastery in northern India, one of the mahaviharas (great monasteries) that granted the learned degree of pandita, here indicated by his yellow hat. In 1042, he traveled to Tibet at the invitation of the western Tibetan king Yeshe ‘Od to help purify Buddhist practices there. Atisha’s authority was rooted in his lineage, an unbroken chain of pupil-guru relationships going back to the Buddha himself. This portrait of Atisha, among the oldest preserved, shows him as an enlightened being with golden skin and a halo, seated on an elaborate jeweled throne. His right hand is held in the teaching gesture and he holds a bound palm-leaf manuscript in his left. The tangka can be dated from a contemporary inscription on the reverse naming known historical figures.