Shiva Mandala

Designed and built by Art Donovan. September, 2008- January, 2009

Part 1. Designing and Building the Mandala.
My most recent Steampunk work, The “Shiva Mandala”, (2009) is the culmination of my life-long interests in antique science, history, freemasonry, astronomy, iconography and global religions. To date, it stands as the most complex design in my entire Steampunk collection. After rendering hundreds of preliminary sketches and concepts, the final rough sketch at the bottom became the basis for Shiva Mandala The Mandala would consist of a large central unit surrounded by four “planets”- top, bottom, left and right. A large Gimbal Ring in the center will now physically and graphically support each of the separate units in the design. Each unit could now boast a unique personality and illustrate the entire story of the piece. With this type of design I could now include the very important element of physical m ovem ent. It was this wonderful kinetic quality that was implied in my previous Steampunk designs but absolutely necessary in this particular work. Now that I had the correct proportions, I could hand craft all of the m ahogany and m etal parts of the M andala in the dimensions as needed. But the success of the M andala to be rendered in it’s exact proportions depended on one final element- the Human Skull for my ‘Craniometer.’ Locating a suitable and realistic skull is not easy. Although there are thousands of skulls available in many m aterials, there are very few that have the anatomical proportions and authentic details required. With no choice but to sculpt it myself of solid plaster, the skull became the singular design element that guided the entire size and proportions of the Mandala. This means that the completed unit would need to be a full 6' tall by 6' wide in order to match the proportions of the final sketch.

Part 2. The Shiva Mandala. Technical Description and Emblematic Study.
The central part of the M andala is the illum inated Astrolabe. The astrolabe is 32" in diameter and is a precise reproduction of the ancient Persian model created by Muhammad ibn Abî Bakr in the year 1221, as seen in the Oxford History of Science Museum in England. Since the original astrolabe is made entirely of solid brass, I enlarged the original image and transposed the m aterials so that the piece could be back lit, yet still have the detail and drama of the original ancient masterpiece. The astrolabe unit is entirely hand painted in translucent and opaque dyes with the addition of hand made brass details. The “Rete” or movable piece that covers the face of the astrolabe is hand made of black polycarbonate. Opaque enough to have visual mass but still transparent so that it would still illuminate. Hand painted color and B/W details were added to the outside of the “Mater”. According to James M orrison, “The astrolabe is the first complex device used for navigation. It locates the celestial bodies at specific times as does the later mariner’s sextant and quadrant.” This is emblematic of the innate desire to find our own place and proper position in the world around us. Click on the link below to read about the original ancient astrolabe: The four bodies or “planets” that surround this astrolabe have both metaphoric and scientific meaning.

Time Destruction/ Rebirth Mortality
Tim e: The 24 hour Clock at 12:00 represents the 24 hours of the day that freem asons are taught to divide into equal parts according to prescribed masonic law. Below the clock is the masonic “Past master’s Jewel”. This illustrates the desire to attain perfection in both the corporeal and spiritual worlds. It consists of the Compasses, set at 30 degrees, with which masons are taught “to circumscribe their desires and keep them in due bounds with all mankind”. The Sun Disk represents the master of the lodge, who is sworn to govern the lodge with the regularity of the celestial bodies. The mariner’s quadrant replaces the standard masonic square and it represents the tool that aids the master in correctly and safely navigating his lodge. The pyramid placed in the center of the quadrant contains the masonic “All Seeing Eye” of God. Life Force: The Plasma Disk represents both the essential component of all physical life: electricity, and also the noble pursuit of all the physical sciences: astronomy, biology, and the physiological arts. Mortality: The Craniom eter. Here, I rendered my own version of this antique 19 th century device- Originally used in phrenology a tool to measure and compare the dimensions and proportions of the human skull. Masonically, the skull reminds us of our brief mortality but greater still, our shared and identical human bonds. Nataraja Shiva: Destruction and Rebirth. Positioned at 9:00, the Shiva is located in the final quadrant of the design. In this Mandala, Shiva, representing the end , beginning and rebirth of the universe, blurs the distinction between religion, philosophy and science.

Life Force

To view the video of the Shiva Mandala, Click here This video is also available on my blog spot below.

For all inqueries, please contact Leslie Tarbell Donovan. Email: