Although the painting does not bear an inscription giving the name of the high pontiff, it is without saying that it concerns the Sixth Panchen Lama. His facial characteristics are similar to another depiction of him, inscribed with his name, and published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - Tangka-Buddhist Painting of Tibet, The Commercial Press, Hong Kong 2006, pl. 30.
bLo.bzang.dpal.ldan.ye.shes was distinguished for his writings and had a keen interest in world affairs. As the Panchen Lama, he came second in ranking after the Dalai Lama in the dGe.lugs.pa order of Tibetan Buddhism. This school was favoured by the Qianlong emperor who was a devoted follower of Tibetan Buddhism. The Panchen Lamas series formed a lineage which is said to be an incarnation of the Cosmic Buddha Amitabha Buddha who indeed can be detected above the presented Panchen Lama.
The Sixth Panchen Lama was an influential religious as well secular leader. In the 45th year of Qianlong's reign (1780) he was invited to Beijing to celebrate the emperor's 70th birthday. Actually he was treated with a respect normally extended to only a Dalai Lama. However, shortly after his arrival he contracted smallpox and died at Xihuangshi (Western Yellow Temple) in Beijing, in the eleventh month of that year.
The present thang.ka is unusual for its fine brush use and subtle colouration. The flowers, rocks and much of the background details are beautifully executed and painted in a most naturalistic manner. The face is a startling and vivid rendition of the Lama. The quality of the presented silk thang.ka suggests that it was created in the Palace Workshop. In general, paintings originating from this workshop were of extreme fine quality and workmanship, delicately mounted and made of superior quality material.