05. Buddha Sakyamuni 释迦牟尼佛陀

Western Tibet 西藏西部
15th Century
Gilt-copper alloy with copper, silver, and turquoise
Height: 12 5/8 in. (32.1 cm.)

David R. Nalin Collection

Kerin, M., Artful Beneficence: Highlights from the David R. Nalin Himalayan Art Collection, exhibition catalogue, Rubin Museum of Art, New York, 2009, cat. no. 11 and back cover illus.

The base of the image is as compelling as the figure.  The upper and lower horizontal registers of this stepped base are respectively incised with a flower motif and the eight lucky signs.  Between these two incised sections is grillwork featuring a figure on bent knee at the central projection.  He appears to be in Central Asian garb with a long tunic which billows outward on either side.  His arms are raised as if to imply that he is holding the structure aloft.  Framing him are two ornate pillars.  The intricate grillwork continues with two lions on either side of the central projection, each set back and located in its own section.  The design of this base, complete with the Central Asian-like figure at the center, resonates with sculptural bases made in 8th to 12th-century western trans-Himalayan Buddhist art.

The long inscription incised into the back of the throne base provides the names of the patrons and artist as well as the purpose for this commission.  The first line of the inscription is a description if the Buddhas as the wise skillful and compassionate one born into the Sakya clan with a body like Mount Meru adorned in gold.  The second line provides information about the patrons a woman named Norby Gyelmo and three men, Chipa Sherab, Apa Gyeltsen, and the “tenth master,” Dorje Dradul.  According to the inscription the sculpture was: “manufactured for the sake of obtaining Buddhahood after this so-called ‘inferior’ life.”  It ends with the wish that the virtue gleaned from the creation of this statue be dedicated to transmigrators so they can attain Buddhahood quickly.  The artist is identified in the inscription as Kun dga’ chos, “the lineage holder of skillful artisans.”

The throne base design coupled with the inlay work of silver and copper suggests that a craftsman from western Tibet may have made this object.  The term A pha, used in the inscription to identify one of the patrons, may be a western Tibetan regionalism meaning “noble one” and further supports a western Tibetan provenance.