Lineage Portrait of an Abbot

Central Tibet

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 253

The abbot portrayed here belonged to the Kagyupa order of Tibetan Buddhism, centered in the Ü (dBus) and Tsang (gTsang) regions of Central Tibet. His distinctive facial features and receding hairline suggest a portrait from life, as does the naturalistic physiognomy. He sits on a radiantly colored lotus throne with his right hand in the earth-touching bhumisparsa mudra, emulating the posture of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni at his moment of awakening, rather than the usual preaching gesture (dharmachakra mudra). This sets the portrait apart and points to the lama’s status as a revered spiritual teacher. His lineage of teachers is shown above. Indian pandits occupy the roundels while below are protectors and directional guardians, as well as a monk, shown holding a gilded censer, likely the commissioner of this portrait.

Lineage Portrait of an Abbot, Distemper on cloth, Central Tibet

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