A new book looks at the art of Tantric Buddhism

‘Buddhism: A Journey Through Art’ looks at Asia’s Buddhist visual art traditions, especially that of tantric Buddhist painting and sculpture

Over its long, 2,500 year old history, the art of Buddhism has undergone many changes, while staying true, in essence, to the Buddha’s tenets of liberation and compassion. The ways that these changes have manifested themselves are entirely dependent on the ways that different cultures have received and adapted Buddhism over the years. R.M. Woodward’s Buddhism: A Journey Through Art is an excellent visual representation of this process.

Woodward is an artist who is also interested in theological art and especially in Eastern philosophical systems. So, while it isn’t surprising that she should combine these interests in this book, it must be said that trying to band together so many disparate eras of Buddhism and Buddhist art into one package is a daunting task. Woodward manages do so, just about, by dividing the material into six sections: Tantric Buddhism, Gandharan art, depictions of the Buddha, of the Bodhisattvas, of religious officials like bhikshus and arhats, and of religious artefacts.

The photographs of the objects themselves are sourced from 12 museum collections from around the world, with the largest number coming from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The lay reader of Buddhist art would be hard pressed to otherwise come across the gorgeous objects depicted here, so in that regard, the book represents an excellent introduction to this vast subject. Hopefully, this will usher them towards immersing themselves more deeply in the various eras of Buddhist art, as well as specific cultural depictions, be they from Bengal, or the Kathmandu Valley, or Japan.