Vajrabhairava (Primary Title)
Vajrabhairava (Primary Title)

Unknown (Artist)

15th century or later
polychromed wood
Overall: 53 1/4 × 50 3/4 × 30 3/4 in. (135.26 × 128.91 × 78.11 cm)
Not on view

Known by his epithet Yamantaka (Slayer of Yama, the Lord of Death), Vajrabhairava personifies the victory of spiritual wisdom over death. Ferocious and commanding, this buffalo-headed Buddhist deity subjugates gods, demons, birds, and animals that stand for evil and suffering. A garland of severed heads, symbolizing the conquest of the ego, hangs from his neck. The implements in his thirty-four hands represent different aspects of spiritual knowledge. Many are weapons that he uses to destroy various obstacles to Enlightenment. This otherwise terrifying deity is a cosmic emanation of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, whose serene face emerges from Yamantaka’s crown.

There is considerable uncertainty as to the date of this monumentalsculpture. Stylistically it is similar to gilded metal images of the same subject produced under the patronage of the early 15th century Ming Yongle and Xuande emperors, and some scientific tests have indicated its wood is at least that old. The sculpture’s theatricality and state of preservation, however, suggest that it might have been produced in the imperial workshops of Qianlong, the Qing dynasty emperor who ruled China from 1736 to 1795. Qianlong was intensely interested in Tibetan Buddhism, particularly the Geluk tradition, which honored Vajrabhairava as one of its principal protectors. If from the 18th century, its craftsmen might have been looking to Ming models in its creation.

E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Fund
Barriault, Anne B., and Kay M. Davidson. Selections from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Richmond, VA: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2007. (pp 192-193)

Khalil Rizk, The Chinese Porcelain Company: A Dealer’s Record, 1985-2000 (New York: The Chinese Porcelain Company, 2000) color ills. p. 18 (verso) & p. 19 (recto).

Anne Barriault, Selections Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Richmond: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1997) p. 27, ill. (color).
Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

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