In the center of this early and well-preserved painting is the great teacher Phakmodrupa Dorje Gyalpo (1110-1170). He is flanked by two columns featuring scenes of his previous lives, including his life as a monkey, shown in the scene with a golden stupa near his right shoulder. Phakmodrupa was a charismatic Kagyu mystic, and portraits of him circulated widely during his lifetime. While several later copies of this prototype survive, early versions of this portrait, such as this, are rare.
Phakmodrupa's pupils founded eight later Kagyu Schools of Tibetan Buddhism, including the Taklung Kagyu School, founded by Taklung Thangpa Chenpo (1142-1210), to which this painting belongs. Its main monastic seat, Taklung Monastery (founded in 1185), became an artistic center in its own right with a distinctive East Indian (Sharri) inspired painting style, recognizable by the highly stylized multicolored, narrow (mostly vertical) rock formations used to frame the figures seen in this painting.
On the back of the canvas a long text in the shape of a stupa reveres successive Taklung Monastery abbots, the last of which is Sangye Yarjon (1203-1272), allowing the painting to be roughly dated to the late thirteenth century.