Buddhism was introduced to Tibet in the 7th century, but the persecution that followed in the 9th and 10th centuries destroyed all of the artifacts from this early period. Thus, the earliest existing Buddhist art from Tibet dates to the 11th and 12th centuries, known as the 'Period of the Second Diffusion of Buddhism.' Few paintings survive even from this period, especially those in the Western Tibetan style, which exists primarily in murals or illustrated manuscripts. The museum recently acquired two paintings that represent this rare style. Both were discovered in Tibetan monasteries by the Italian Tibetologists Giusseppe Tucci and Egenio Ghersi during an expedition to Tibet from 1933 to 1935.
The Western Tibetan style was influenced by the art of Kashmir because of the close proximity of the two areas and because many Kashmiri artists were employed by Western Tibetan patrons. Sculptures in this style are as uncommon as paintings, but the museum's collection includes two 11th-century examples: the brass Standing Buddha from Kashmir and the painted wood Seated Buddha, possibly from the West Himalayan area of Lahul.
The sculptures provide a meaningful comparison, helping us to define the early Western Tibetan style. Distinguishing features include the Buddha's massive body, with broad shoulders, narrow torso, and a monastic garment (sanghati) that reveals the body underneath. In the seated figures, the sanghati is worn over the left shoulder with the hem of the garment covering the right shoulder. Edged with a border of contrasting color, the garment falls in a U-shape on the lotus base.
Buddha's arms are very elongated. His hands end in long, tapering fingers. The head, with its heart-shaped face, has a high cranial bump (ushnisha) and the hair curls are emphasized by knots in the sculpture. The ears are long, with square lobes. The face has gently arched eyebrows, almond-shaped, semi-closed eyes, a straight nose, very full lips, and a rounded chin.