Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Portrait of a Lama, Possibly Dromton

last quarter of the 11th century
Distemper on cloth
Overall: 18 1/4 x 14 1/4 in. (46.4 x 36.2 cm) Framed: 31 3/4 x 21 13/16 in. (80.6 x 55.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Friends of Asian Art Gifts, 1991
Accession Number:
Not on view
This enthroned lama, in a gold decorated robe, sits in a yogic posture, holding his hands in dharmachakra mudra, symbolizing the Turning of the Wheel, the Buddha’s first sermon. The elaborate architectural setting is supported by lions and flanked by two rearing leogryphs on elephants. In the upper corners, two bodhisattvas expound the dharma, their hand gestures echoing those of the preaching lama. An inscription on the reverse establishes that the portrait belonged to Chengawa Tsultrim Bar. In all likelihood it depicts Dromton (1005–1064), of whom Chengawa Tsultrim Bar was a leading disciple. Dromton was the founder of the Reting monastery, seat of the Kadampa school and the foremost disciple of the Indian monk Atisha, who revitalized Tibetan Buddhism in the first half of the eleventh century. The image thus establishes a formidable lineage.
Inscription: Inscriptions on the back:
There is the consecration mantra ōṃ a hūṃ in the top corners for the secondary Bodhisattvas and a consecration mantra may also be part of the central mantras written in the shape of a stūpa.

Underneath is a two line inscription in headless letters (dbu-med) written in red ink. It is astonishing how clear and set off this inscription appears in comparison to the rather dull back of the rest of the thangkas back.

spyan snga tshul khrim 'bar gyis sku phyang nas ma 'o gzim
chung shar ma'i lha me sr/nyug ma’o|

There are a number of unusual features in this inscription, in particular the usage of more distanced letters without indicating a break in the sentence by a shad. Indeed, the ‘o essentially appears to function as a break between two sentences and the problematic last three syllables are set off as well.

The inscription is said to note that it was personally consecrated by Tshul-khrims-'bar (1038-1103), one of the three major disciples of 'Brom-ston (1004-1064) and that it was hung on the eastern wall of his residence (JCS).

However, as far the inscription can be interpreted to date it is clear that nothing is said of a consecration and it certainly does not say that the mentioned sPyan-snga Tshul-khrims-‘bar was responsible for such a consecration. In fact spyan-snga, literally meaning ‘in the personal presence of’, is part of Tshul-khrims-‘bar’s name, as can readily be seen by its usage in the Blue Annals. If this sentence is intended to identify the represented teacher depicted on the front, then the agentive particle following the name is a grammatical error and needs to be read as connective (gyi instead of gyis). However, as long as the end of the sentence remains puzzling this is just tentative.

The second sentence then states, similar to the inscription on 1993.479, that this thangka is/ replaces the god of the small dwelling in the east.
The last three syllables remain unclear.

Also the stūpa shaped mantras in ornamental script still need to be deciphered.

C. Luczanits, Saturday, May 22, 2004
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sacred Visions: Early Paintings from Central Tibet," October 6, 1998–January 17, 1999.

Zurich. Museum Rietberg. "Sacred Visions: Early Paintings from Central Tibet," February 14, 1999–May 16, 1999.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Early Buddhist Manuscript Painting: The Palm-Leaf Tradition," July 29, 2008–March 22, 2009.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art of the Himalayas," December 15, 2010–December 4, 2011.

New York. Rubin Museum of Art. "Mirror of the Buddha: Early Portraits from Tibet," October 21, 2011–March 5, 2010.

Related Objects

Portrait of the Indian Monk Atisha

Date: early to mid-12th century Medium: Distemper and gold on cloth Accession: 1993.479 On view in:Not on view

Portrait of Jnanatapa Attended by Lamas and Mahasiddhas

Date: ca. 1350 Medium: Distemper on cloth Accession: 1987.144 On view in:Not on view

Mandala of Jnanadakini

Date: late 14th century Medium: Distemper on cloth Accession: 1987.16 On view in:Gallery 253

The Buddha Amitayus Attended by Bodhisattvas

Date: 11th or early 12th century Medium: Distemper on cloth Accession: 1989.284 On view in:Gallery 253

Amoghasiddhi, the Buddha of the Northern Pure Land

Date: ca. 1200–50 Medium: Distemper on cloth Accession: 1991.74 On view in:Gallery 251