Divine Gestures: Channels of Enlightenment
Bringing together some of the most rare and exquisite pieces of sculpture from India, Nepal, Tibet and ancient Gandhara, Divine Gestures: Channels of Enlightenment lies at the intersection of religious iconography and fine-craftsmanship. Iconography is often seen through a multivalent lens of factual discourse and the essence of it being a medium to channelize and embody the energy of the respective deity is often overlooked. This exhibit is an ode to the iconographic elements of a sculpture that bridge the tangible and intangible realms of art.
Nepal, 16th Century
5 1⁄4 in. high
Inscribed on verso
Himalayan Art Resources (himalayanart.org), item no. 7572
Doris Wiener Gallery, New York
private NY collection
Fogg Art Museum, “The Discerning Eye,” 9th October -24th November, 1974
The bestower of wisdom, wealth, and prosperity, Ganesha is the Hindu deity venerated at the outset of any new endeavor as he is believed to be ‘Vighnaharta’ the remover of obstacles. The iconography of seated Ganesha, with the right leg vertically upright and the left foot folded along with both the hands gracefully resting against the legs culminate in a complaisant posture known as the Maharajalilasana (King’s posture). All four hands of Ganesha comprise symbolic objects. The upper left-hand consists of a battle ax and the lower left and right hand consist of sweets and a tusk which is the reason why ‘Chaturbhuja’ (one with four arms) is a name associated with Ganesha. The use of copper as a material endows the surface of the sculpture with a reddish patina which is grainy yet reflective. This peculiar texture enhances its overall luster, which also speaks of the excellent condition of the piece.
Here, Ganesha is seated on a throne-like pedestal flanked by a petalled design on the base and floral vine ornamentation on the armrests on the two sides. For a comparison, see S. Kramrisch, Manifestations of Shiva, Philadelphia, 1981, p. 144, cat. no. 118. Note the similarities in the posture, variable attributes, and ornamentation of the pedestal. However, one can note that the Nepali iconography portrays Ganesha with a pot belly but it is relatively less stout and plump compared to the Indian iconography. (Kramrisch 1981, p.144) As can be inferred from the Nepali origins of the sculpture and numerous others, the anthropomorphic figure of Ganesha was adored and worshiped by Buddhists alike Hindus.
Kashmir, 8th Century
Diameter: 7 x 7 inches (18 x 18 centimeters)
Himalayan Art Resources (himalayanart.org), item no. 7574
Nancy Weiner Gallery, Inc.
private NY collection
Asia Society Museum, “Arts of Kashmir,” 2nd October 2007 - 27 January 2008
Pal, Pratapaditya. “Faith and Form: Religious Sculpture in Ancient Kashmir.” Essay. In The Arts of Kashmir. New York, Newyork: Asia Society, 2007.
A tour-de-force of sculptural acumen, this one-of-a-kind roundel sculpture from Kashmir represents Surya, the Hindu sun god on his chariot pulled by seven horses.
The roundel emphasizes the sun god in the center along with his attendants Pingala and Dandala on either side of him. The outer circumference with a halo-like ring consisting of a hatched texture amplifies the round form of the sculpture which is directly representative of the sun. The lotuses in both the hands of Surya being a key attribute of his iconography symbolize the circle of life and death.
Western Tibet, circa 15th century
silver and copper inlay
6 in. high
Himalayan Art Resources (himalayanart.org), item no. 7573
Acquired From Doris Wiener Gallery, New York
This bronze of a Maitreya figure from Tibet, is seated in the crossed-legged posture of Dhyanasana. Flanked upon a lotus pedestal, the hand gesture of the Maitreya in the Vitarka mudra is symbolic of preaching – signifying the transmission of knowledge.
The elaborate ornamentation witnessed through the five-pointed crown, the ornate earrings, armbands and the necklace represent the Tibetan admiration for luxury and jewelry. Lotus flowers at both ends of the Maitreya extend into stalks intertwined between the thumb and forefingers of the figure. The Nagakesara flower on the right and the Kundika (waterpot) on the left along with a stupa at the cornet are key iconographic attributes of the Maitreya. The benign demeanor of the figure emphasizes the role of Maitreya as the future Buddha who is said to descend on earth from the Tushita heaven to alleviate the pain of humanity. For a comparable reference, see Maitreya figure from Himalayan Art Resources (Item No. 24327) for stylistic and iconographic similarities.
15 in. (38 cm.) high
Acquired by Christies, New York in 1990s
Evocatory of safety and reassurance, this stucco hand sculpture of Buddha’s hand in the Abhaymudra gesture highlights the synecdochical representation in Buddhist art. Abhaymudra is a Sanskrit word where Abhay means fearlessness and Mudra means gesture. The hand with all five fingers extended, consists of fine creases on the palm and the fingers. Traces of red pigment can be observed throughout the hand. The hand here not only stands symbolic of Buddha but it also stresses upon the preeminence of non-verbal communication in Buddhism. Such hand gestures are said to generate forces and channelize them.