Vajrabhairava Mandala

Period: Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)

Date: ca. 1330–32

Culture: China

Medium: Silk tapestry (kesi)

Dimensions: Overall: 96 5/8 x 82 5/16 in. (245.5 x 209 cm)
Overall (framed and mounted): H. 113 1/2 in. (288.3 cm); W. 90 1/2 in. (229.9 cm); D. 3 3/4 in. (9.5 cm); Wt. 230.3 lb. (104.5 kg)

Classification: Textiles-Tapestries

Credit Line: Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1992

Accession Number: 1992.54


This woven mandala, in the style of the Sakyapa school (originating from the Sakya monastery in Tibet), shows Yamantaka (also known as Vajrabhairava), the wrathful manifestation of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, as the central deity. This basic scheme of the mandala follows the convention of the Sakyapa school in the fourteenth century, and the decoration is rich and complex. Color changes and slits in the weave make up the design, and the use of gilded paper in the crowns and jewelry gives a three-dimensional effect. Shading is achieved by combining wefts of two different colors or two shades of the same color, a technique developed in the Southern Song (1127–1279).

The donors depicted in the lower corners, identified by Tibetan inscriptions in the cartouche above their portraits, are (from the left): Tugh Temur, great-great-grandson of Kublai Khan, who reigned as Emperor Wenzong of the Yuan dynasty in China from 1328 to 1332: Khosila, elder brother of Tugh Temur, who reigned briefly in 1329 as Emperor Mingzong; and Budashri and Babusha, their respective spouses. The vertical strips that originally extended from the cartouches, which may have included the names of the emperors and empresses in Chinese, have been cut out.

It is likely that this mandala was commissioned before the death of Babusha in 1330, and completed after the death of Tugh Temur in 1332. The subject of the mandala suggests that it may have been produced for an initiation ceremony. We know from his biography in the Yuanshi (Yuan History) that Tugh Temur underwent two initiations as emperor, and that the imperial family practiced Yamantaka initiations. However, because kesi (imperial portraits) and mandalas were always produced in triplicate or (more rarely) in duplicate, and because no mention of the occasion is ever given in connection with the commissions, it is more likely that these portraits and mandalas were meant to be housed or displayed in ancestral and portrait halls in temples connected with the imperial family. The Museum's mandala with imperial portraits is the only complete example known of this singular class of imperially commissioned works of art from the Mongol empire.