Asian Antiques Appraisals And Valuations

15th-Century Silver Figure of Milarepa Sells for $2.1 Million at Sotheby’s Auction

Lot number: 108 Title: The Nyingjei Lam parcel-gilt silver and gilt-copper figure of Milarepa Origin: Tibet, 15th century Dimensions: Height: 12.8 cm


  • Previously owned by the collection of Nyingjei Lam

Estimated value: US$1,200,000 – 1,800,000 Hammer price: US$1,700,000 Final selling price: US$2,117,000

Auction house: Sotheby’s New York Sale: Indian and Himalayan Art, including Masterpieces from the Nyingjei Lam Collection Date of sale: 21 March 2023

A stunning silver figure of the legendary yogi Milarepa has sold for $2.1 million at a recent auction held by Sotheby’s. The 12.8-cm statue, which dates back to the 15th century, is a depiction of Milarepa in his iconic white cotton shawl, with a meditation strap (yogapatta) slung across his body.

Milarepa (1040-1123) is one of Tibet’s most revered saints, known for his ascetic lifestyle and his devotion to the practice of meditation. He is considered the progenitor of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, and is held in the highest esteem by followers of all orders of Tibetan Buddhism.

According to legend, Milarepa’s first Buddhist teacher failed to provide him with the knowledge he sought, and eventually referred him to a guru named Marpa from Wheat Valley in Lhodrak. Milarepa’s trials while apprenticed to Marpa are legendary, as he felt that his new guru was withholding his knowledge. Milarepa left on numerous occasions, only to return finding no satisfaction elsewhere. However, his persistence finally paid off when he was granted the teachings he had been seeking, and he praised his beloved guru Marpa in song and verse. Over a lifetime, Milarepa is famously credited with composing one-hundred-thousand songs.

The silver statue of Milarepa is seated on an antelope skin laid over a lotus pedestal. The richly gilded copper base is inscribed around the circular upper rim. The gilt-copper consecration sealing-plate beneath is intact, and beautifully engraved with a visvavajra and a further two-line inscription.

The sculpture is cast in a pure south central Tibetan style that is fully formed by the 15th century. Unmistakably Tibetan in its iconography and style, the statue nevertheless incorporates foreign sculptural traditions that have been absorbed by Tibetan artists and patrons over centuries. The color combination of silver figure on a gilded copper base is a sculptural device originating in eastern India during the Pala period (8th-12th century), seen in the silver Maitreya in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Examples of this elegant and innovative Pala style were brought to Tibet where they served as inspiration to local artists. The style of the slim and elegant lotus petals on the gilt copper base are reminiscent of the smaller Yongle period (1403-1424) imperial bronzes bequeathed in large numbers to Tibetan hierarchs and monasteries.

Milarepa’s story has inspired generations of devotees, and his legacy continues to live on today. This exquisite silver statue is a testament to his enduring influence, and it is no surprise that it has fetched such a high price at auction. The diverse influences on a pure Tibetan sculptural style are evident in this silver masterpiece, representing Tibet’s cultural hero, Milarepa.

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