Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Teacher Sculpture Page

Teacher Main Page

Database Search: All Teacher Sculpture

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Masterworks (Persons)
- Sculpture (early period 11th - 14th century)
- Sculpture (middle period 15th - 16th century)
- Sculpture (late period 17th century to the present)
- Portrait Sculpture
- With Figure or Deity Attributes
- Sculpture & Painting Comparison
- Confusions
- Others...

Principal Characteristics:
- face
- garments
- gestures
- cushion
- lotus
- throne

Sculptural representations of teachers are primarily a phenomena of the Himalayan and Tibetan areas and those cultures to the north that follow Tibetan Buddhism. There are very few examples to be found in Indian, Swat, Kashmiri or Nepalese art of representations of teachers. The vast majority of representations depict monastic figures especially in the early period. In most cases the individual cannot be identified. Only a small number of objects have an inscribed name. Some figures can be identified by facial features after comparison with identified portrait paintings. It is possible that some figures can also be identified by attributes in the hands or a very unique posture. For the later sculpture hats become an important means of first identifying the religious tradition of the figure and then narrowing it down to the most likely candidate for identification.

Two unique features of many of the Tibetan sculpture is the presence of a monastic shirt and a meditation cloak found around the shoulders and folded over the legs. The shirt is not part of the prescribed dress code in the male Buddhist vinaya texts, but rather adopted from the female vinaya rules of dress. There are two styles of shirt, an early and a late version. This meditation cloak is not part of any vinaya and has often been confused for a style of monastic garment. The cloak is a functional adaptation in a cold climate.

Early period works include all persons from the 11th to 14th century. The majority of the figures are of teachers in monastic appearance. A defining characteristic of this period is the rounded shape of the shirt viewed at the right shoulder. A second characteristic is the use of a meditation cloak. Early figures rarely have attributes in the hands. Occasionally a figure might hold a string of prayer beads.

Middle period sculpture is referring to the early 15th and 16th centuries and the rise of the three dominant Tibetan sculpture styles of the time, Sonam Gyaltsen atelier, Tsang atelier and the Karma Garlug. There is an overlap during the 15th century with the early to mid 1400 demise of the Densatil sculpture style.

Later period figures are from the 17th century to the present along with some overlap from the 16th century. This period is dominated by regional ateliers with distinctive aesthetic taste along with manufacture and presentation. Very distinctive broad styles of the time are the Zanabazar, Kangxi, Qianlong and Dolonnor styles.

Early Period 11th-14th | Middle Period 15th-16th | Late Period 17th-present

Jeff Watt 10-2019

(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links above).


About the portraits of Tibetan masters by Jean-Luc Estournel. Asianart.com. February 28, 2021.