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In Tibet, lamas are the teachers and perpetuators not only of Buddhism, but of all learning, including art and literature. The reverence for individual lamas produced some of the earliest biographical literature as well as spectacular paintings and sculptures. Portraits of specific lamas range from images of idealized scholar-saints to highly individualized monks with wrinkled faces, prominent noses, or graying hair. The vast majority of paintings, however, depict particular groups of lamas, rather than a single individual. Known as a lineage, these group portraits (which may appear as a single painting or a series of paintings) represent the continual passing of teachings from sage to student in an unbroken chain.
Learned Lamas: The Teacher in Tibetan Art brings together a selection of expressive and powerful works to explore this unique portrait tradition, one that reveals the interplay between the flaws of being human and the vision of the ideal.