Portrait of Jnanatapa Attended by Lamas and Mahasiddhas

Date: ca. 1350

Culture: Eastern Tibet, Kham, Riwoche monastery

Medium: Distemper on cloth

Dimensions: 27 x 21 1/2 in. (68.6 x 54.6 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Purchase, Friends of Asian Art Gifts, 1987

Accession Number: 1987.144


This portrait was created for Riwoche monastery in eastern Tibet, a branch of Taklung monastery. The central figure and the assembled abbots are not directly named on the painting. Nonetheless, two inscriptions allow a lineage identification: the epithet Jnanatapa (“heat of wisdom”) appears on the painting’s veil, a name denoting a famous Indian mahasiddha, the spiritual fathers of Tantric Buddhism. The second is the identity of presiding deity above the central figure, named as Avagarbha. The importance of these two clues is revealed by their presence in the official history of Taklung monastery, which tells that the first abbot of Riwoche monastery was an incarnation of “the peerless mahasiddha Jnanatapa” and that his Tantric teacher was Avagarbha, a Bengal siddha. Hence, this portrait is intended to invoke the spiritual lineage of Taklung and Riwoche monasteries through the person of mahasiddha Jnanatapa.