The central figure of the ninth Karmapa Wangchug Dorje (1556-1603) wears the typical black hat common to all recognized rebirths in the Karmapa incarnation lineage. He holds the right hand up to the heart in a gesture of blessing and the left hand in the lap holds a long-life vase. Of the sixteen Karmapas, only the ninth is consistently depicted in one of two ways, either as the present example, or with his right hand extended onto his knee and the left hand holding a book. Wearing the red and orange robes of a fully ordained monk, he also wears an outer meditation cloak, gold and richly patterned. Karmapa sits on a cushioned throne with an ornate backrest with two dragon heads looking inwards at the seated figure. A large black lacquer table supports victuals and libations while again in front two more tables, pink and blue, present offerings, jewels and precious substances - real and imagined.
The four attendant figures wearing monastic robes and red caps and hold various offerings, including
a large and fan-like Drugpa Kagyu hat, held with a white scarf (middle left), tea from a round white teapot, held aloft with a white scarf (lower left), a long and red Tibetan folio text with a white scarf (middle right), and a metal censor wafting incense and held by a gold chain, along with a bag of precious incense in a striped woven cloth bag decorated with frills along the bottom (lower right).
Directly behind and above Karmapa is a tall tree trunk with knotty branches extending into the clouds, supporting a throne and pink lotus seat for the blue Vajradhara, flanked by Indian mahasiddha Tilopa (left) and Naropa (right). Slightly below on the left side is Marpa Chokyi Lodro with Dagmema, and on the right is Milarepa, student of Marpa, wearing traditional white robes and a red meditation belt, and cupping his ear while singing to six figures seated in front. To the left side of the Karmapa's face sits Gampopa Sonam Rinchen, the famous student of Milarepa, wearing the robes of a monk and the hat which he designed. At his feet sits Pagmodrupa, depicted as balding and with facial hair, founder of the Eight Minor Kagyu Traditions. To the Karmapa's right is Pagmodrupa, seated in a grass meditation hut situated in a dense green forest.
On the back of the cloth mountings on this painting is the single Tibetan word, "tsowo," which means "main" or "principal" and indicates this was the first in a set of paintings. There are no apparent inscriptions on the front of the painting. There is a set of inscriptions on the verso but they were applied long after the painting was created, likely by the former owner, and do not pertain to the painting.