The Indian religion of Jainism takes its name from the Jinas, or Victors: revered teachers who periodically appear to reveal and transmit the tradition’s wisdom. These perfected human beings, who serve as role models for the faithful, have crossed over life’s stream of rebirths. Thus, they are also known as Tirthankaras, or Forders, and twenty-four are born into each age of time’s cyclical course.

Image of a page
Page from a Manuscript of the Kalpasutra, 18th Century, Artist Unknown, Opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper.

On view for the first time is VMFA’s set of two dozen paintings illustrating these spiritual victors of the current age. While each Jina sits in the same meditative posture, these paintings otherwise teem with variation. The Tirthankaras’ complexions and characteristic emblems are distinctions dictated by standard Jain iconography. However, other differences—especially the colorfully dizzying array of architectural and botanical settings—are purely products of the artist’s lively imagination.

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In addition to highlighting these newly acquired works, this installation draws attention to the depth of VMFA’s Jain holdings. A sublime white marble sculpture of a seated Jina moves from its usual placement to join the paintings in the South Asian collection’s Pavilion gallery, and Jain paintings from western India are featured in an adjacent gallery.