This book is the culmination of a long story that began with the acquisition of fifty-four paintings from an elderly priest, who had served in a Belgian mission in Inner Mongolia in the 1920s, by the Ethnographic Museum of Antwerp in 1977. The All-Knowing Buddha: A Secret Guide focuses on this extremely rare group of richly-detailed album leaves which illustrate the visualization practice of Sarvavid Vairocana, the All-Knowing Buddha. This beautifully illustrated step-by-step visual guide provides a unique glimpse into Tibetan Buddhist meditation and ritual, normally instruction restricted to oral transmission by a teacher to his initiated disciple. These practices are usually not meant to be depicted and this is one of the only albums known to exist in which the meditative visualization process is spelled out visually. While the ritual narrative of these unusual paintings is Tibetan Buddhist in content they are expressed in a vivid Chinese aesthetic, a unique product of cultural translation through its Mongolian patrons. The album exemplifies rich patterns of cross-cultural exchange that characterized the Qing Empire.
Three essays by Rubin Museum curators explore different aspects of Vairocana and contextualize the album, illustrated with approximately twenty-five images, followed by the leaves themselves which are featured in fifty-four full-page plates with accompanying commentary on their ritual and artistic content.
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