This compelling portrait is inscribed on the lower back with Marpa's name. Marpa (1012?1096) was one of the seminal figures in early Tibetan Buddhism. He traveled to India several times to study and eventually became the disciple of Naropa, one of the eighty-four mahasiddhas, or great teachers. Marpa had numerous followers and his teachings became the core of the Kagyu (orally transmitted) school.
Several factors point to an early date for this sculpture: the portraitlike quality of the face, naturalism of the robes, and style of the garments. No early portrait of Marpa is known and later ones show him with long hair and a less individualized face, perhaps indicating that our sculpture records an actual likeness.