King Songten Gampo as the incarnate Avalokiteshvara


On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 253

Although this painting is dominated by images of an eleven-headed bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and a pair of golden footprints, the subject is that of the unassuming lama seated at the lower center, likely the seventh-century Tibetan king Songten Gampo. He appears as an incarnation of his spiritual mentor, Avalokiteshvara, who presides above him in radiant form. He is flanked by portraits of his two queens, their hands raised reverently. One of the earliest surviving Tibetan paintings on silk, it reflects an awareness of Central Asian Buddhist art traditions and is a rare reminder that the early kingdoms of Tibet were as much engaged with Central Asia and the frontiers of China as they were with the Indian subcontinent to their south.

King Songten Gampo as the incarnate Avalokiteshvara, Painting on silk, Tibet

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