310. A Tantric Diagram

Western India, early 18th century
Size: 11.5 × 26.3 cm
Colours on paper

from

JEAN-CLAUDE CIANCIMINO’s
Alchemical toy-cupboard

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Inscribed on the back: ‘J.C .Ciancimino personal. SHRISHTI. Shrishti [emanations, creations] qui proviendrait d’un manuscript du Shuddacittavanisutra, traite de cosmologie. Elle figuerait diverses étapes de la formation de corps célestes et d’orbites. Indes occidentale début 18e cent.’

In 1960s London the word ‘Tantra’ immediately conjured up Jean-Claude, the genie who could magically create marvellous displays in his King’s Road gallery. Life-size paintings of Cosmic Man, mysterious maps of other realms, brightly coloured path-markers to inner worlds, objects of power from unknown traditions. It was a heady mix that fascinated everyone who crossed his threshold, on a level that no one before or since has quite achieved. It was a Theatre of the Imagination, over which he presided like a genial magus.

Much later he said, somewhat wistfully, that in the early days of his travels in India he had access to great masterpieces, but he was irresistibly drawn to this other area of which Tantra was part. By comparison it was worth very little, and then it was that he accepted that he wasn’t in it for the money.