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Lot 3244. A silver inlaid copper alloy figure of Tsangnyon Heruka Tsang, Central Tibet, 16th century. Estimate USD 100,000 ~ 150,000. Sold for US$ 319,500 (€295,778)Photo: Bonhams.

Inscription translated, 'Homage to the scholar-yogin, the mad man of Tsang, Sang gye Gyaltsen'7 7/8 in. (20 cm) high
Himalayan Art Resources item no.10874

NoteIt is difficult to imagine a portrait bronze with more eccentricity and charisma. "The Madman of Tsang", Tsangnyon Heruka (1452-1507) appears to draw a disapproving frown, but more likely he is inhaling deeply through his nostrils to heat his naked body through breath alone. His rotund belly confirms he is a master of the Kundalini yoga practice (tummo).

While ordained, Tsangnyon Heruka's teachers were Rechungpa (1084-1161) and Gampopa (lot 3225), the primary pupils of Milarepa (lot 3219). But inspired by his grand-master, and Kagyu's early Indian mahasiddhas, Tsangnyon Heruka turned his back on monasticism to pursue the tantric life. His biographies have him inhabiting burial grounds, wearing and even eating what he finds there. Here, the bronze is deliberately cast in two alloys, affording the figure a richer and darker copper content to convey the tint of his body covered with ashes from charnel remains. Nevertheless, like the peripatetic Milarepa before him, he attracted numerous disciples as he wandered between cemeteries, caves, and hermitages.

In 1504, Tsangnyon Heruka accepted the invitation of the King Ratnamalla (1482-1520) to restore the famed Svayambhu Stupa in his capital, Kathmandu. Completed in less than three months, the project won him the acclaim of many who were initially put off by the master's unusual behavior. Shortly afterward he received the high praise of The Seventh Karmapa, Chodrak Gyatso (1454-1506) and the King of Central Tibet, Donyo Dorje (1463-1512).

Tsangnyon Heruka is also one of Tibet's most celebrated authors. He is among the first to have his works printed with woodblocks, funding and developing the technology which would have a profound effect on Tibetan culture. His most famous writings are the biographies of Milarepa and Marpa (lot 3218), but he also produced a number of instructional texts, particularly for the Rechung Kagyu and Drukpa Kagyu transmissions. He cultivated a legacy of writing and printing wherein his pupils added the standard biographies of Tilopa, Naropa (lot 3217) and Rechungpa.

The bronze has the typical brassy lotus base of the ateliers of Tsang in Central Tibet, where Tsangong Heruka was born and active.

PublishedPortraits of the Masters, pp.154-5, no.25.
Matthew Akester, Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo's Guide to Central Tibet, Chicago, 2016, p. 423. 

Published & Exhibited: Monasterios y Lamas del Tibet, p.179, no.127.

Provenance: Sotheby's, New York, 20 March 1997, lot 112

Bonhams. PORTRAITS OF THE MASTERS, 108 Bronze Sculptures of the Tibetan Buddhist Lineages, 14 Mar 2017, New York