An Illustration from the Bharany Ramayana Series
The Monkey Army intruding Upon a Demon’s Cave First Generation after Nainsukh or Manaku
Guler Opaque Watercolor
Folio: 9 7⁄8 x 14 inch (25.1 x 35.6 cm); Image: 7 5⁄8 x 11 5⁄8 inches (19.4 x 29.5 cm)
Provenance: Collection of Dr Alma Latifi, CIE, OBE (1879-1959)
Sotheby’s New York, 5 December 1992, lot 163
Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini
Nepal, 15th-16th century
Height: 8 1/2 inches (22 cm)
Henri and Dolores Kamer, New York
Private American collection, acquired from the above in the early 1990s
Himalayan Art Resources (himalayanart.org), item no. 16809
Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini are important deities of the highest class of yogic practice in Vajrayana Buddhism. This small gilt-bronze sculpture of meditational deities in union exudes an energy that reaches far beyond the boundaries of its surface. Chakrasamvara is depicted here according to Tibetan Buddhist convention, with four faces and twelve hands, in alidhasana, embraced by his consort Vajrayogini. Together they trample the deities Bhairava (who lies prostrate) and Kalaratri (who lies supine). The multi-headed tutelary deity holds various attributes with his many arms radiating around him, the principle arms holding a vajra and bell and the uppermost holding the ends of a tiger skin which he drapes over his back.
This lustrous gilt-bronze sculpture is representative of the highest quality Nepalese craftsmanship. Its magnificence is embedded not only in the semi-precious inset ornaments that adorn the deities gleaming golden, perfectly proportioned bodies, but perhaps more so in the sweetness of the countenances and the apparent meeting of the male and female manifestation’s gazes—the intangible, yet most-human feature of this sculpture.
Compare the present sculpture to a fourteenth-century sculpture of Chakrasamvara in union with Vajrayogini from Central Tibet at the Rubin Museum of Art (acc. C2005.16.16) which has repeatedly been attributed to the hand of a Nepalese artist in exhibitions and publications (see Collection Highlights: The Rubin Museum of Art, New York, 2014, p. 106). The Rubin sculpture appears to have been crafted in Tibet for a number of reasons including the appearance of the metal alloy beneath the gilding and the fixtures revealed on the backside of the figure and base which indicate that it would have been mounted on a larger structure, likely a tashi gomang or a stupa of ‘many auspicious doors.’ The similarities between the present sculpture and the Rubin example, in terms of craftsmanship and style are significant as the Rubin sculpture more directly evidences the significant relationship between Nepalese craftsmanship and Tibetan Buddhist worship.
Newar craftsmen made Vajrayana buddhist figures such as the present for both Nepalese and Tibetan patrons in both Nepal and Tibet. However, the unfinished backside of the present figure’s lotus base and the remnants of red pigment thereon are telltale signs of a geographical Nepalese provenance. The modeling of the lotus petals and red pigment applied to the back of the base can be observed on a stylistically similar sculpture of Sahaja Chakrasamvara at the British Museum (acc. 1921,0219.1) attributed to the sixteenth century and acquired directly from Nepal. The present bronze group, however, is far more complex and impressive.
Mandi, style of Sajnu, circa 1810
Opaque watercolor heightened with silver and gold on paper
Image: 9 1/8 x 5 7/8 inches (23.2 x 14.9 cm)
Folio: 11 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches (29.8 x 21 cm)
Royal Mandi collection
Acquired by the present owner on the UK art market
The majesty of this supreme shakti is perfectly captured by this finely decorated Pahari composition. Her beauty, as her name indicates, transcends the vast Tripura (three demon citadels) within which she is believed to have defeated many demons. For she is the transcendent form of the supreme Devi Parvati and rules over the Trimurti (divine triad) of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Thus, she is also known as ‘Raja Rajeshwari,’ meaning the ‘Queen of all Kings and Rulers.’
The mahavidhya’s power is not only captured by her elaborate enthronement and godly ornamentation, but also by the ethereal gaze the artist rendered so well; her wide and bright third eye clearly visible in this rendering of the deity in profile. Her identity is revealed by her red skin and her four arms, two of which hold an elephant goad and a lasso.
Her identity is corroborated by a small painted image, pasted within the border atop the painting folio depicting the Parvati yantra: a six-pointed star within an eight-petaled lotus surrounded by a square with gates in the four cardinal directions. It is typical to find such an associated yantra as the worship of shaktis always incorporates these diagrammatic mystic charms. Such worship consists in throwing kumkuma (vermilion powder) over the yantra while speaking aloud the many epithets of Lalita Maha Tripura Sundari.
The present subject is rare among published paintings, however, one example can be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum, though it is currently identified as Kali (acc. CIRC.660-1969). The present painting, however, differs quite distinctly in style as it can be attributed to the style of Sajnu, the master artist who is credited with bringing the sophistication of Kangra and Guler paintings of the time to Mandi. Her profile, in particular, resembles many subjects executed by Sajnu (see Archer, W.G., Indian Painting from the Punjab Hills, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 1973, Mandi no. 43).
Here, Lalita appears enthroned atop the terrace of a marble palace; a pietre-dure arch between two marble pillars frames the goddess. The black margin with floral petal and leaf scrolls in white and gold meets a redspeckled yellow border. This follows, as Sajnu is known for the use of spandrels to frame his compositions and an exquisite use of florals.
A Ram’s Head Shamshir
Northeastern India, Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow
Height: 33 inches (83.8 cm)
Acquired on the UK art market
The shamshir’s name comes from the radical curve of its blade, translating to ‘lion’s claw’ or ‘lion’s tail.’ The blade itself is forged from wootz steel; the carbon deposits within the iron ingots forming intricate wave-like patterns known as ‘damascus.’ A modern scabbard of tooled black leather, attached with shell-shaped brackets for suspension, accompanies the sword.
The present shamshir is a beautiful example of the famed silver metalware produced in Lucknow during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The diamond-shaped quillion is made from engraved silver with fine blue and green champleve and basse-taille enamelling particularly characteristic of Lucknow. In the center is a Hyderabadi poppy in aquamarine blue–a distinctive motif in the Lucknow vocabulary which demonstrates the fusion of Deccani opulence and Mughal naturalism. (see Mark Zebrowski, Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India, 1997, p. 87, pl. 74.)
Perched above is a bird in blue and cherry red, its head bowed and wings spread wide. A spiral of bristling green leaves encircles the scene, and is flanked by two birds in flight. On the border appears a quatrefoil floral pattern on a blue ground, another characteristic motif of Nawabi enamel. The quillon’s tapered ends mirror the splendid offset pommel, which is formed into a ram’s head. The fine etchings in the ram’s fur and curling horns shine through the vibrant blue and orange enamel, contrasting the animal’s brilliant silver smile. The grip–extending as if the curving neck of the ram–is made of translucent rock crystal, secured to the tang with small pins.
Compare the present example to another fine ram’s head shamshir from Lucknow currently housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (acc. 36.25.1302a, b). The scabbard exhibits similar enameled metal work motifs such as the Hyderabad poppy, the scrolling green foliage, and the quatrefoil floral border.
Portrait of a Woman with a Cat
Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on paper
Image: 6 ¼ x 4 inches (15.9 x 10.2 cm)
Folio: 11 ¾ x 8 ¼ inches (29.8 x 21 cm)
From a distinguished New York collection, acquired 1968
B.N. Goswamy, The Indian Cat, New Delhi, 2023, Cat. 39, pp 140-141
A European noblewoman in a three-quarter frontal view – dressed in a Sixteenth Century Portuguese manner with a pleated green collared tunic over an orange dress enveloped by a flowing yellow and mauve cape – pets her tame cat with both hands. Her brown curly hair is long and braided with a single jeweled feathered ornament on her forehead. She sits at the edge of a circular raised white basin (or perhaps a well?) employed as a vertical visual device to highlight and elevate the subject against the green ground rising to a lighter flat oxidized verdigris background.
Her curly brown hair and bold three-quarter view tells us that she is certainly not an Indian – but rather a farangi – a foreigner (and in particular a Westerner) with strange habits and morals and an object of curiosity and some mockery. She poses here as an idealized archetypal European – enigmatically sitting balanced at the edge of a circular basin or cushion rising vertically beneath her – her odd cat staring directly back at us.
This painting reflects the continuous fascination with European and Christian themes as depicted by Mughal artists and their patrons beginning with the first contacts with Portuguese Jesuit missionaries and other visitors to the court of Akbar in the Sixteenth Century. In the manner of Seventeenth Century Mughal miniatures depicting single figures – including those based upon imported engravings and paintings of Western Biblical themes – she sits isolated against a flat copper-oxide green background. The present work is a version – possibly of an earlier Seventeenth Century original – likely produced at Delhi dating to the latter Eighteenth Century.
Abhaya Mudra: The gesture symbolizing Peace, Protection and Benevolence
A large stucco hand of Buddha
Gandhara, 3rd century
Height: 15 inches (38 cm)
Japanese Collection, acquired in 1990s
Christie’s New York, Indian and Southeast Asian Art, 16 September, 2008, lot 325
Finely casted, the present sculpture of Buddha’s right hand with all five fingers extended in Abhaya mudra (gesture of fearlessness) with fine detailed creases in his palm and fingers consisting of red pigment remains overall. A symbol of reverence, the hand here stands for Buddha himself. It also brings to attention the paramount significance of Mudras in Buddhist art and in the Buddhist religion at large. Mudras are a set of hand gestures symbolizing Buddha’s various roles and states of mind. Mudras have often, if not always, been pedagogical tools used to refashion pedagogical religious Buddhist religious doctrine into comprehensible symbolic narratives.
Buddhism reached Gandhara in the third century B.C. The present sculpture from the same time-period makes it a coveted object from the origins of Gandharan Buddhism.
A pair of carved, silvered and painted wood figures of Rampant Horses
Wood, silver, paint
Height: 33 1/2 inches (85.1 cm)
Acquired from Matthew Schutz, New York, by Ann and Gordon Getty in 1981
Christie’s New York, 19th October 2023, lot 256
Caparisoned in intricate carvings of jewels and textiles, the present pair of silver horse sculptures are examples of the fine silver craftsmanship in India. The foliate motifs throughout the surface show the traces of low-relief and high-relief silver carving. The lines accentuating the details of the physique of the horses are incised in high-relief, whereas the embellishment through foliate motifs is incised in low-relief. One can also spot motifs like the acanthus leaf motif at the lower limbs of the horse; this speaks for the time period of British Raj in India. In order to meet the demands of their North American and European Clientele, Indian silversmiths created a beautiful fusion of Indian and European design sensibilities. The piece also depicts embellishments of arabesque motifs like flower vines and scrolls.
The winged horse takes the center stage in various Hindu mythic episodes. According to Vastu Shastra (the study of Indian spatial design and architecture) the very archetypal galloping horses symbolize strength, bravery and devotion and are said to charge spaces with positive energy.
A winged horse is the depiction of Devadatta (the horse of Kalki, Vishnu’s tenth incarnation). It is noteworthy that the depiction of Kalki varies in terms of the visual idiom. It is often in the form of a white winged horse or as a warrior on a white horse (both used visual idioms are used interchangeably). Refer the following painting (ac.IS.113-1949) from the Victoria and Albert Museum which portrays Kalki with his winged horse.
Latest Collection and Virtual Exhibitions
View our latest collection of ancient and classical fine arts of India and the Himalayas through our online catalogs and virtual exhibitions. We offer an abundant array of fine paintings, sculptures, and works of art that can be perused in an online gallery.
In addition to the recent exhibition Religious Art: Exaltation through Expression, other notable presentations include Divine Gestures: Channels of Enlightenment, Dhanvantari’s Blessing, Incarnations of Devotion: South Asian Works of Art, Incarnations of Devotion: Tibetan and Buddhist Paintings and Bronzes, and God/Goddess, to name a few.
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