Padmasambhava (Primary Title)

Unknown (Artist)

18th century
copper alloy, gemstones, traces of paint
Central Tibet
Overall: 23 1/2 × 16 × 12 in. (59.69 × 40.64 × 30.48 cm)

Hoping to unite his fledgling empire by establishing a new religion, Tibet’s King Trisong Detsen invited India’s foremost Buddhist scholar, Shantarakshita, to oversee the building of a monastery. But every night, the local spirits dismantled what had been built during the day. Tibet’s conversion would thus require the intervention of a sorcerer who could subdue these spirits: Padmasambhava, a Vajrayana adept from the far north-west of India and founder of Tibet’s oldest Buddhist order, the Nyingma. His great powers are conveyed by his wrathful visage and the implements he bears: a trident-headed staff decorated with three heads in varying stages of decay, a skull cup filled with the nectar of immortality, and, now missing from his right hand, the ultimate spiritual weapon, the lightning bolt vajra.

Berthe and John Ford Collection, gift of the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation
Awaken: A Tibetan Buddhist Journey toward Enlightenment, VMFA, Richmond, April 20-August 14, 2019; Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, January 17 – November 29, 2020; Rubin Museum of Art, New York, March 12, 2021 – January 2, 2022

2002-2003: "The Secret Visions of the Fifth Dalai Lama", Musée national des arts Asiatiques - Guimet, Paris, 11/5/2002-2/28/2003

1992-1993: "Mystic Visions: The Virginia Museum's Collection of Nepalese and Tibetan Art, VMFA, 7/6/92 - 1/3/93

1971: "Indo-Asian Art from the John Gilmore Ford Collection", The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1971.
Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

Some object records are not complete and do not reflect VMFA's full and current knowledge. VMFA makes routine updates as records are reviewed and enhanced.