A key political moment—as understood by later Tibetans and Asian emperors—is depicted in this portrait of Phakpa (1235–1280) empowering Kublai Khan。 This event can be dated to 1264, because Phakpa’s younger brother Chakna Dorje (1239–1267), who died soon thereafter, is depicted with Kublai Khan in the mid-left section of the painting。 The Mongolian Khans had previously taken teachings from other lamas in the Sakya tradition, especially Phakpa’s uncle, the great scholar Sakya Pandita。 Phakpa formally bestowed on Kublai Khan an esoteric tantric initiation, for which Kublai gave him suzerainty over three regions of Tibet and dedicated himself to the support of Tibetan Buddhism, forming a priest-patron relationship。 Emulating the Tangut Xixia emperors who had begun this tradition of priest-patron relationships, Kublai gave Phakpa the crystal seal of the Tanguts。 Six years later, after proclaiming the Yuan dynasty, Kublai appointed Phakpa as imperial preceptor in his court so that he could continue to receive Phakpa’s empowerments。
The painting depicts an imperial court scene but is less concerned with imperial greatness than the greatness of the lamas and their tradition of religious empowerment. Phakpa is depicted as the guru of the esoteric Sakya tradition known as Lamdre (Path and Fruit), based on a series of thangkas of important Sakya masters, made by the 15th-century artist Khyentse Chenmo. Kublai Khan, portrayed much smaller than Phakpa, presses his hands together to pay respect to the guru who empowers him. Phakpa, rather than the Khan, is seated on the throne amid architectural features, such as marble steps and red columns, that evoke the emperor’s palace in Shangdu (Xanadu).
C2002.3.2, HAR 65046