MetCollects from The Metropolitan Museum of Art - episode 02 / 2018

Every month, MetCollects introduces one work of art recently acquired by the Met.
We invite you to have a first look with us.

Click below to go directly to this month's episode.

Chakrasamvara and consort Vajravarahi

Devotional cloth paintings in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism serve as tools for meditation. They are understood to be the captured image of a visualization of a particular deity by a highly advanced practitioner. Some are intended for regular display before the wider monastic community, including novices, and essentially serve as visual prompts to proper thoughts and actions. Others, of a more esoteric nature and invoking powerful images, can be deemed inappropriate-indeed dangerous-if viewed by the uninitiated or less skilled members of the sangha (Buddhist community). This meditation painting belongs to the latter category.

Here, the image of Chakrasamvara embracing his yogini consort Vajravarahi is a highly energized visualization, such as would have been experienced by an advanced tantric master. The sexual energy with which this painting is charged is rarely equalled in Tibetan art, enhanced by the evocative use of bold color dynamics. The colors evoke sexual heat, the flaming aureole its radiance. The chromatic interplay of the ash blue and ember red bodies sets up an extraordinary tension, particularly where the faces meet in embrace, lips not quite touching. The painting is a supreme example of the equation of physical union with the union of right knowledge and right method, a secure path to awakening. It is also understood by esoteric Buddhist practitioners to be imbued with the nine dramatic sentiments, rasa, which encapsulate divine energy and power. The flaming aureole is understood in Tibetan sources as "the blazing fire of pristine awareness."

John Guy
Florence and Herbert Irving Curator of the Arts of South and Southeast Asia
Asian Art



Download The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine in App StoreDownload The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine in Google play