Panel from a Buddhist Ritual Crown Depicting Vairochana

Date: late 13th–early 14th century

Culture: Tibet

Medium: Distemper on wood

Dimensions: H. 11 3/4 in (29.8 cm); W. 5 1/8 in (13 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Purchase, The Vincent Astor Foundation Gift, 1997

Accession Number: 1997.152


This panel depicts an enthroned Vairochana Buddha enclosed in a rainbow halo and surrounded by thick foliage. Most likely, it was the center section of a five-leaf crown worn by Buddhist priests during religious ceremonies. Vairochana (the Resplendent One) is the penultimate deity of the five Cosmic Buddhas and is portrayed here making his characteristic gesture, the bodhyagri, while holding a thunderbolt scepter (vajra) in his right hand. The figure is exquisitely rendered, with subtle characterization, elegant body proportions, convincing three-dimensionality, and finely rendered details such as the curling tendrils of hair and the ovoid designs on the lower section of the skirt. The throne base is adorned with three jewels (triratna), a Buddhist symbol denoting the Buddha, his teachings, and the monastic community. The long lower garment worn by Vairochana is not adopted for Buddhas until the late thirteenth century. Two lions flank the triratna, crouching in the interstices of the base. Directly above Vairochana and supported by foliage is a wheel, symbol of the particular family (kula) of universal powers and attributes associated with this deity.