|1700 - 1799
|Gelug and Buddhist
|Ground: Textile Image, Embroidery
Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini according to the tradition of the Indian mahasiddha Luipa, an imperial silk textile commission of the emperor Qianlong (18th century).
Chakrasamvara (Wheel of Supreme Bliss) is the name of a complex multi-faced and multi-armed Tantric Buddhist meditational deity. He is dark blue in colour, with four faces and twelve arms. Each hand holds a different attribute. In a standing posture he is in union with his consort Vajrayogini, red in colour, with one face and two hands. When Vajrayogini appears with a pig face on the side or top of the head she is then called Vajravarahi. In this example there is no pig face or head to be seen. Below the feet are the prone figures of red Kalaratri and black Bhairava representing obstacles to be overcome.
Deity figures such as these have a complicated appearance because they embody a specific metaphor and function as a mnemonic device (memory system) for advanced Tantric theory and meditational practice. There are many different physical appearances of the deity Chakrasamvara depending on the various source Sanskrit literature texts. In Tibet there are approximately fifty different traditions for the practice of Chakrasamvara.
At the top left side is the mahasiddha Luipa appearing as in Indian ascetic. At the top right side is an unidentified Tibetan figure wearing monastic robes and the yellow pandita hat of the Gelug Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. At the bottom center of the composition is the protector deity special to the Chakrasamvara system of practice, Vajra Chaturbhuja Mahakala. He is black, or dark blue, in colour with one face and four hands, wrathful in appearance, seated in an active posture, surrounded by the flames of pristine awareness fire.
Embroidered and woven textile works such as this are a specialty of the Chinese mainland and less common in the Himalayan regions and Tibet. The only real exception is Bhutan which has masterful textile skills primarily for embroidery and applique. Textile works were commonplace in the imperial workshops although varying in quality depending on the purpose of manufacture. Often gold wrapped thread was used for the finer pieces. Buddhist artworks created in a Himalayan art style and manufactured as textiles generally followed a painted model created by skilled artists. The finished painting would then be converted to a paper model and used as the guide for many textile recreations
This Chakrasamvara example is one of a number of existing works that were likely created as gifts to be bestowed on dignitaries and institutions at the time of important anniversaries such the birthday of the emperor or his mother, and other such noteworthy dates. Along with this excellent work, a number of fine examples still exist today in the holdings of the Palace Museum, Beijing.
The over all condition of the piece is very good save for some fading due to exposure to light. Silk is a very delicate organic material and highly susceptible to fading. There appears to be no damage from cuts, tears, water or insects to the central image or the brocade border surrounding the work. This Chakrasamvara is an excellent example of the textile creations of the imperial palace of the 18th century.
Jeff Watt 6-2018
Publication: Zhiguan Museum (Article)
Collection of Zhiguan (Painting & Textile)
Publication: Zhiguan Museum (Chinese Language Article)
Collection of Zhiguan Museum of Fine Art (RMA 2019)
Buddhist Deity: Chakrasamvara (Textiles)
Buddhist Deity: Chakrasamvara Main Page
Collection: Sotheby's on HAR
Collection: Sotheby's New York (Painting. September, 2015)
Textile Set: Deities (Palace Workshop)
Collection of Zhiguan Museum of Fine Art