Item: Wheel of Life

སྲིད་པ་འཁོར་ལོ་བྲིས་ཐང་དང་ལྡེབས་རིས། 生死轮绘画和壁画
(item no. 94338)
Origin Location China
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection American Museum of Natural History
Catalogue # 70.0/ 6931
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Object/Concept

AMNH Description

Wheel of Life: the most unique feature of this painting is the personification of death that holds the large circle of the Wheel of Life. He is not adorned with any ornaments such as bone necklaces, bracelets, or a headdress of five skulls. This omission of ornamentation is unusual and not commonly found with these types of paintings.

The lack of ornamentation is the unique aspect of this painting. The form of the 'death personification' figure is considered correct in this depiction. In Tibetan and Himalayan art it is typically wrathful deities that have bone ornaments and symbolic five skull crowns - not depictions of the personification of death in the Wheel of Life paintings.

It has however become the norm for Tibetan artists to treat the form of the 'death personification' as if it were any other wrathful deity and to decorate with the typical adornments used for any other wrathful Buddhist figure such as Vajrapani or Mahakala.

Jeff Watt 4-2011

Related Items
Thematic Sets
Collection of American Museum of Natural History - I
Wheel of Life (Bhavachakra, Samsara Chakra) Main Page
Wheel of Life: Five Sections

Copyright © 2015 Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation. Photographed Image Copyright © 2009 American Museum of Natural History.