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藏中 十五/十六世紀 藏傳佛教薩迦派五祖師銅像
Private New England Collection, acquired in New Delhi, 1960s
Thence by descent to the present owner
Known in Tibetan as "Jetsun Gongma Nga", "The Five Superiors" or "Five Forefathers" of the Sakya Order of Tibetan Buddhism comprise Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), Sonam Tsemo (1142-82), Jetsun Dragpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216), Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251), and Drogon Chogyal Pagpa Lodro Gyaltsen (1235-80). Together, through their religious commentaries, these acclaimed masters established all of the order's core teachings. Under their leadership, the Sakya also achieved preeminence during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), after Khubilai Khan effectively made the fifth Superior, Chogyal Pagpa, the viceroy of Tibet. This group of inscribed portrait bronzes commemorating all five forefathers very likely represents the only complete sculptural set outside of Tibet. Finely modelled, cast, and engraved, the set originates from Tsang province in Central Tibet during a peak of artistic achievement in the 15th and 16th centuries. Of a particular stylistic subset, characterized by burnished, non-gilded, and heavily patterned surfaces rendered by crosshatching a negative silhouette around relief designs, these are among the finest known examples.
The Sakya order was established in 1073 with a humble hermitage in the Shigatse region of Central Tibet built by Khon Konchog Gyalpo (1034-1102), a descendant of the ancient Khon clan. Konchog Gyalpo's noble family had followed the Nyingma tradition up until his time and included a direct disciple of Padmasambhava, the Indian guru who first introduced Buddhism to Tibet in the 8th century. The new order quickly established a scholarly reputation through the collection and translation of texts mainly coming from India and Nepal. Their artistic patronage also drew from these sources, and during the 13th century, Sakya monastery represented the pinnacle of Tibetan art and architecture. After the collapse of the Mongol Empire in the 14th century, the Sakyas transferred their power to Gyantse, which was strategically located along the principal trade route within Tsang province. The Sakya continued to enjoy sponsorship from the early Ming emperors, though less exclusively than under the Yuan. Nevertheless, the Sakya were among the foremost contributors to Tibet's remarkable golden age of artistic, literary, and spiritual achievement in the 15th and 16th centuries, known as the Ganden Renaissance (Thurman & Rhie, Worlds of Transformation, 1999, pp. 31-2).
The vast quantity of portrait bronzes produced during this exceptional period of Tibetan art history demonstrates that there were concurrent stylistic preferences for both gilded and non-gilded bronzes in Central Tibet, the latter frequently being inlaid or heavily patterned. An overwhelming correlation between non-gilded portraits representing monastic orders based in Tsang province, such as the Sakya, Jonang, Bodong, and Drugpa Kagyu, roots this general taste in the western half of Central Tibet (cf. HAR set no. 3556). Within Tsang, several non-gilded sub-styles emerged, exhibiting different techniques and proclivities for inlay and engraving. The present set of "Five Superiors" belongs to one such sub-style characterized by abundant patterning yielded from a distinctive technique of crosshatching or stippling to create a negative ground around the desired motif. Curiously, several examples depicting the Sakya hierarch Sengge Gyaltsen (HAR set no. 4730), whose monastery was in Tsang, are in the same sub-style. One example formerly of the Nyingjei Lam Collection (HAR 68474) offers a particularly good comparison as it also includes the large lhantsa script seen on the back of its base. A portrait of Shangton Chobar, which was sold at Bonhams, New York, 14 March 2017, lot 3256, gives a further example of the sub-style epitomized by the present set of Sakya Early Patriarchs.
Their mannered quality affords each forefather an authoritative air modelled with a distinctive portrait. Hairstyles vary from long to short, curled to straight. Eyebrows are angled or round, noses are sharp or wide, and jawlines are bearded or cleanly-shaven. Hand gestures also vary, and though three display the teaching gesture (vitarka mudra.), their wrists and fingers are uniquely flexed in way that does not adhere to formulaic repetition. Their garments are also distinct from one another, cladding the first three founders in sleeved cloaks of Tibetan laymen, as is typically shown for these subjects, while the latter two wear robes of fully ordained monks. The varied selection of chased Buddhist motifs gives symbolic expression to the spiritual and worldly achievements for which each leader is best known. Each robe's lavish engraving and vertical pleats are redolent of luxurious Chinese embroideries that were imported in Tibet, reflecting the deepening connections and trade between the Sakya and the late Yuan and early Ming courts. Their delicate rendering encapsulates a period of artistic ascendancy lasting between the 15th and 16th centuries, in which Tibetan art reaches its full maturity.
Bonhams would like to thank Jeff Watt and Karma Gelek for their assistance in transcribing and translating the set's inscriptions. Please note that spelling errors in the inscribed Tibetan (which are common) are reproduced faithfully in the following transcriptions. Also, the English translation remains faithful to the inscribed text, which is a variation on the Lamdre Teacher Prayers developed by Chogyal Pagpa. For the standardized version, see Sa skya bka' 'bum. Volume 13. The Collected Works of Chogyal Pagpa (1235-1280). #2, lam 'bras brgyud pa'i phag mchod, pp. 71-9.
Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158)
The first of the Jetsun Gongma Nga, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, was the son of Khon Konchog Gyalpo, Sakya monastery's founder. He was educated by his father, who transmitted the Hevajra Tantras to him as a child, and by the great translator, Bari Lotsāwa (1040-1112). Sachen specialized in the field of tantric study and practice, writing many commentaries, including the first dedicated to the cryptic Vajra Verses, which are at the heart of the Lamdre tradition ('Path with the Result'), the Sakya's paramount teaching. His hands held in the teaching mudra, a reference to the first sermon of Shakyamuni, illustrate his initiative as the first of the Sakya patriarchs.
The gentle candor of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo's face, suggestive of his attuned meditative faculties, also carries his nobility as a member of the Khon clan, with his articulated features of arched eyebrows and defined moustache all set on evenly layered gilding across the face. His illustrious Buddhist ancestry is further evoked by the deeply carved cartouches of the robes. Two magical creatures associated with directionality in Tibetan culture—the celestial dragon at front and the terrestrial snow-lion at back—create an oppositional pairing alluding to both his heaven- and earth-bound status. Along his knees sit more docile creatures of the deer and hare, which are closely associated with Shakyamuni Buddha's initial teaching at Deer Park in Sarnath marking the creation of the Buddhist sangha (monastic community). His robes and cloud collar garment indicate his position as a layman, his life story telling of the Sakya master Nam Kaupa's recommendation that he take up monastic life only after meeting the lineal requirements to his family to produce heirs.
"Having directly perceived Manjushri,
Memorizing all Dharma by heart,
Having no delusions in knowledge,
Becoming the master of all the supreme ones.
With great compassion,
Always performing the benefit of others,
Lord of Yoga Sakyapa;
To Kunga Nyingpo, I bow."
Sonam Tsemo (1142-82)
Sonam Tsemo, the second of the Sakya Early Patriarchs, was Sachen Kunga Nyingpo's firstborn son. Deeply influenced by his father's intellect, he in turn became a revered master of Mahayana as well as Vajrayana doctrine. After only three short years as the head (Tridzin) of Sakya monastery, Sonam Tsemo passed the responsibility to his younger brother so that he could devote his time to scholarship and retreat. While he never married or had children, he remained a lay practitioner for life, indicated by the full-length sleeves of his cloak and his long curls. His robes are the only in this set not to bear cartouches. Instead, the pleated garment is lightly engraved with scrolling motifs, mostly of floral patterns interspersed with fruit, and a single flaming jewel between his shoulders. The robes' relative modesty when compared to the others in this set, as well as Sonam Tsemo's pose, holding attributes in the mode of the purification deity Vajrasattva, resonate with this master's deep commitment to study and meditative practice.
"Accomplished from limitless merit,
Greatly increasing omniscient wisdom,
Becoming the supreme kinsman of beings;
To Sonam Tsemo, I bow."
Jetsun Dragpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216)
Sonam Tsemo's younger brother, Drakpa Gyaltsen, is the third Sakya Superior. Like his father and elder brother, Drakpa Gyaltsen was not a monk, although he is said to have spent his entire life in meditation, study, and teaching. His full-sleeved layman's cloak is adorned with four of the Eight Auspicious Symbols (ashtamangala) derived from ancient Indic royal emblems. Flanked on either shoulder are cartouches carrying phoenixes. These mythical birds, often embroidered on imperial Chinese silk robes, suggest his noble Khon lineage as well as his transcendent consciousness; Drakpa Gyaltsen is said to have been able to converse directly with tantric deities (Dinwiddie (ed.), Portraits of the Masters, 2003, p. 207). His impact in the field of tantric theory and practice would never be surpassed in the Sakya tradition. As such (and as here), he is frequently depicted with the same attributes and pose, crossing the vajra and ghanta before his chest, as the Primordial Buddha Vajradhara, who is considered the divine progenitor of most tantric cycles (see two other portraits of the lama in Rossi & Rossi, Homage to the Holy, 2003, nos. 20 & 21).
"Seeing the reality of all dharmas,
Reaching the other side of the ocean of Secret Mantra,
Lord of all Vajra Holders;
To Dragpa Gyaltsen, I bow."
Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251)
The fourth Sakya Forefather was Drakpa Gyaltsen's nephew, the peerless Sakya Pandita. Sakya Pandita's legacy as a scholar and religious leader remains one of the greatest of all time. He is portrayed with the distinguished red pandita hat, detailed with feathered engravings, nodding to his training within the Indian monastic tradition under the renowned Kashmiri teacher Sakyasribhadra (1140-1225). Sakya Pandita's teachings and writings are widely revered throughout Tibetan literature. He is known to have mastered all tantric practices and his many treatises include a complete explication of the Mahayana path (Elucidating the Intention of the Sage). His fathomless knowledge and prodigious instruction are commemorated by this portrait, with the accoutrements of sword and book equating Sakya Pandita with the Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Perfected Wisdom himself. He is also attributed an urna, which represents a tuft of hair at the center of the brow which according to ancient treatises is a mark of a Great Being shared by Buddha Shakyamuni.
Sakya Pandita is also credited with the conversion of the Mongols to Buddhism. His reputation as the wisest Buddhist master of his time prompted the Mongol prince Khoden Khan to summon him to present-day Inner Mongolia in 1244. There, accompanied by his nephew Chogyal Pagpa, the last of the Five Superiors, Sakya Pandita spread Buddhism and, according to Stearns, even "convinced Godan Khan to ban some barbarous practices used to subjugate the Chinese population, such as drowning males above the age of nine from fear of rebellion" (ibid., p. 208). Sakya Pandita's unmatched sagacity among the Mongol rulers initiated the conditions for a political alliance established with his nephew between the Sakya and the Yuan dynasty for which Tibet would never be the same again.
"Granting all wishes and needs of all,
Arising as a precious victory banner,
Attaining abundance, wealth and prosperity;
To the King of Power, I bow."
Drogon Chogyal Pagpa Lodro Gyaltsen (1235-80)
The fifth Early Patriarch, Chogyal Pagpa, ushered in an era of tremendous prosperity and religio-political authority for the Sakya. He remained among the Mongols after his uncle Sakya Pandita's death. In 1253, he was invited to the court of the powerful Mongol prince, Khubilai Khan (1215-94), who would later become the first emperor of the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) in China. Chogyal Pagpa's understanding of Mongol values from his time at Khoden's court, his monastic training in Tibet, his order's scholarly clout, and his noble Khon ancestry gave him a unique advantage to form an alliance with the Mongol empire. Nominated as Imperial Preceptor (Dishi) of the Yuan dynasty, a position held exclusively by the Sakya thereafter, Chogyal Pagpa became the supreme head of the Buddhist clergy across the empire and effectively the de jure head of Tibet. His robes show the most celestial manifestations of cartouches compared to the others, featuring hares, lions, dragons, and several mythical birds, and his face with wavy eyebrows and pursed lips, reveals the most intent expression of all the patriarchs. His hands are arranged in the symbolic gesture of 'progressing the Dharma' (dharmachakrapavartina mudra) which is often assigned to leaders whose worldly enterprise caused Tibetan Buddhism to thrive. Indeed, Chogyal Pagpa's acts often overshadow his extensive written works. Yet, they include the daily Sakya prayers of supplication to the Early Patriarchs which have been inscribed on each respective master in this set. Having procured Khubilai Khan's sponsorship, the fifth and final forefather established a model of imperial patronage of Tibetan Buddhism that would be invoked by rulers of China for centuries to come and provide the economic foundation for Tibet's renaissance, later giving rise to his present likeness.
"Endowed with excellent intelligence,
Like the jewel tip offering of a victory banner,
Bestowing wishes and fortune on beings,
To the [one] of good activities, I bow."