Ha (Clipper) Tran

Shiva Vishvarupa

Class of: 2022

Major: Illustration BFA

Medium: Paper

Faculty: Sharyn Finnegan

Prompt: Go to one of the museums or galleries on the list and pick one or two pieces (your choice) to be the subject of a minimum of full 6 pages of text (excluding pictures and any cover page) and minimum means points off for less. This is a research/visual analysis paper, must include a visual analysis of the work under discussion (include impact on form of materials used), a photocopy if possible (and if you do not have one, a sketch of it is fine), relevant cultural and historical information (and this means relevant to work under discussion) and a discussion of the style.

Having been informed about Shiva in class, I find this Shiva very different in terms of visual and culture. I decided to write about this piece as a way to look into the same Lord in different countries and the stories behind such a large and detailed painting, which is also my first impression of the work. There are so many interesting symbols in it that it would be interesting to do research and analyze each of them. One notable detail is the merging torso of Shiva and his consort who brings him the balance in the center that people often overlook, including myself before I took a closer look at it.


On the trip to the Rubin Museum of Art, I got the chance to witness Himalayan spiritual art, from painting to sculpture that varies in sizes and overwhelms me by their sophistication. One of the artworks that strikes me the most is the large painting of Shiva Vishvarupa, Universal form with consort Nepal, mid 19th century, made of pigments on cotton, as one of the Hindu God of destruction. Shiva Vishvarupa is the symbol of reincarnation- a belief that makes people change their prejudices towards “destruction” as something terrible. Instead, it opens to another beginning as magical as a restart button in the game of the circle of life.

Shiva is known as Mahadeva (the great God)(1) , one of Hinduism’s major gods and the supreme god of the Shaivite sect, worshipers devoted primarily to him. According to the museum’s description, he takes many forms—ascetic, destroyer, conqueror of death, cosmic dancer (2). Shiva, standing on the dais of a tiger and a lotus, wearing lots of gold jewelry, is dancing in the middle of the painting, which creates a strong central axis for the symmetry that holds all the details, the large pointed form above his main head, the oval and the horizontal base, surrounded by radiating pattern of fire shaped like a leaf, hands and repetition of figures of other Gods and animals which diminish as they extend out. At the first glance, I was attracted to Shiva’s big white face with the mustache, which justifies his face being the focal point of the whole painting as it stands out in a large red surrounding area. It is also the large scale of the painting that emphasizes his face as the focus of view and his large figure to be the main subject matter in the work. After a closer examination, it can be seen that there are actually two main merging figures: one male and one female that seem to share the same torso, but the female red body overlaps the white male’ s, his arms are around her waist with the red legs perfectly aligned with the white legs peaking out at edges. The female’s one red arm sinks into the red background and the other one cannot be found. Her sharing the same red as the surrounding background creates the illusion that we can hardly spot her in the first glance but really have to look closer at the painting to find out, which is an interesting part of this detailed painting. Overall, this work has a dense and all-over composition with all available space on the canvas occupied by deities as a visual metaphor for the perception that the entire world is divine (3).

1 Gavin Flood, An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, 151.
2 The Rubin Museum of Art, https://rubinmuseum.org/, New York city, accessed on 10/27/2019
3 Ibid