Incarnations of Devotion
Kapoor Galleries presents Incarnations of Devotion for Asia Week New York Autumn 2021. The exhibition features an array of fine Indian miniature paintings as well as a carefully curated selection of artworks from India, Nepal, Tibet and Southeast Asia. Highlights of the exhibition include an exquisite Indian painting of Radha watching a storm signed by the well-known Mandi artist Mohammadi; a graceful bronze Chola-period sculpture of Parvati with 1950s provenance; several outstanding Tibeto-Chinese scroll paintings depicting arhats and tantric deities; and a large and lustrous Tibetan gilt-bronze figure of Tara with dazzling inlaid jewelry.
Signed ‘Mohammadi’, Mandi, dated 1824 (Samvat 1854)
Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on paper
Image: 9 1/3 x 6 5/8 in. (24 x 17 cm.)
Folio: 11 7/8 x 9 7/8 in. (30.3 x 25 cm.)
Theo Brown and Paul Woner, San Francisco, 1970s-1982.
Private collection, Los Angeles.
Bonhams New York, 19 Mar 2018, lot 3106.
S[amvat] 30 re Bha [draprada] pra [vishte] 10 Shri Miyan Sahaba ki nazar kita ch[tere]. Mahamadiye; translated, “Presented to Miyan Saheb (exalted member of the royal family) on the 10th day of the Bhadrapada month of the year 30 (corresponding to 1854) by the painter Mohammadi”.
The painter evokes the atmosphere of the monsoon season with a turbulent sky of billowing rain clouds and lightning bolts. The passionate nayika clad in a richly ornamented dress looks back to her courtesans, gesturing in the hope that the arrival of the rain will hasten the return of her lover. The powerful and brooding presence of the peacock signifies both the arrival of the rainy season and amplifies the absence of the nayak.
Mohammadi (Mohammad Bax) was the disciple of Sajnu, whose prominence as a master artist became fully realized under his new patron Raja Ishvari Sen of Mandi after he left the court of Kangra around 1804. The style favored in Mandi in the early decades of the nineteenth century diverted towards curious subjects and a naïve style under Shamsher Sen. Sajnu and Mohammadi followed the conventions developed in the Guler and Kangra school and focused on the classic Bharamasa and nayika love poetry, such as that illustrated in the present painting.
This work is important as it shows the high quality of painting produced in the nineteenth century, indicated by a date on the verso which corresponds to 1824 CE. This remains one of the very few folios bearing the artist’s signature. However, the name of the patron in the inscription remains absent and is only referred to by the honorific title “Miyan Saheb.” It is possible that this inscription refers to Raja Bijai Sen, who ruled Mandi from 1851 to 1902.
Compare the present painting with a similar scene in the San Diego Museum of Art published in Goswamy & Smith, Domains of Wonder, San Diego, 2005, pp.252-3, fig.108.
South India, Tamil Nadu, Chola period, 11th-12th century
15 x 8 ½ in. (38.1 x 21.5 cm.)
The estate of Kelly Brook, acquired in India in the 1950s.
Galleria Ethnologica, Forli, Italy, 2011.
Uma appears graceful yet powerful upon a tiered lotus throne. A crown surmounts her discreetly smiling face, modeled with wide eyes, a sharp nose and full lips. Her sacred thread or yajnopavita, guides the eye from her neck down her voluptuous torso and soft belly to her lap, where her beautifully detailed skirt covers her legs to her mid-calf, below which multi-banded anklets and beaded ornaments decorate her down to her feet. She sits in lalitasana, the ‘posture of royal ease,’ with one leg retracted and the other hanging relaxedly off of her throne.
Most images of Parvati in this seated posture belong to a larger group referred to as ‘Somaskanda,’ which describes the divine family constituted by Shiva, Parvati and Skanda. The present figure of Parvati, or ‘Uma’ in the native language of Tamil Nadu, was almost certainly part of a larger group of sculptures which served an essential role in a Shaivite temple centuries ago.
“According to Shaiva Siddhanta philosophy, only when he is in the company of his consort Uma does Shiva bestow grace upon an individual soul. A metal image of the god together with Uma and their son Skanda is thus the principal image of such individual grace, and every single temple, wealthy or otherwise possesses a Somaskanda image” (V. Dehejia, The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola Bronzes of South India, New York, 2002, p.128.). The image is of such great importance that it may be used as a substitute for any godly image needed for Hindu worship. While the present sculpture, like most figures of its size, was commissioned for and essential for temple worship, the group of three portable bronze images were also processional. Such is indicated by the holes fit for poles seen here, which enable worshippers to carry the divine figures into the streets for all to experience darshan—to meet the gaze of the divine.
China, 18th century
Distemper on cloth
43 ¼ x 28 ½ in. (109.8 x 72.5 cm.)
Private Swedish collection, acquired in the late 1930s.
Himalayan Art Resources (himalayanart.org), item no. 8076.
A parasol surmounted with flaming jewels and symmetrically framed by five cumulus clouds hovers over an elaborate throne back presided over by a garuda and containing the Six Ornaments—an elephant, a lion, a sarabha, a dwarf, a makara, and a naga—on each side. Within the bounds of these stacked creatures, black transforms into a deep blue, and finally into a rainbow of light, radiating from the core of the bodhisattva’s golden body in an undulating aureole. A halo of pink and green light frames the bodhisattva’s serene expression. The ornaments that indicate his enlightened status are particularly elaborate—decorated with both jewels and delicate lotus flowers throughout. His multi-layered dhoti is equally as opulent, detailed with delicate floral and spiral motifs in gold.
The golden tone of this majestic figure’s skin belies his identity as the bodhisattva Vajrapani, as the deity is more typically depicted in blue or green. In the Vajrayana tradition Vajrapani takes the place of a narrator, relaying Tantric Buddhist teachings. He appropriately holds a vajra and ghanta which, together, embody his perfected state. The foreground below the celestial figure is filled with large lotus flowers supporting the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Tibetan Buddhism: a parasol, a vase, an endless knot, a dharma wheel, two fish, a victory banner, a conch shell, and a lotus flower.
The style employed here is associated with the Manchu Qing imperial court, produced under a series of emperors who considered themselves emanations of the buddha Manjushri. The relationship between hierarchs of the Gelugpa sect that presided over the central Tibetan government and the Qing Emperors followed the priest-patron model established by Kublai Khan and Chogyal Phakpa in the thirteenth century. As such, paintings like the present were commissioned to fill Tibetan Buddhist temples utilized by the court. The style is distinguished most apparently by the offering goddesses that appear within the clouds at the top of the composition as well as the abundance of lush lotuses styled as peonies and chrysanthemums.
Tibet, 14th Century
Gilt-bronze with semi-precious inlaid stones
18 in. (47.7 cm.) high
Estate of Roy Kirk, San Francisco, acquired in Asia, 1960s, by repute.
J. Russell Wherritt Trust, purchased from the above, 1990s.
Himalayan Art Resources (himalayanart.org), item no. 2144.
The goddess imbued within this image is Green Tara who patronized Tibet directly and was endowed by Tibetans with the epithets, iconography, and functions of enlightened male buddhas and bodhisattvas. Green Tara is second only to the Buddha for many Tibetan Buddhists. A great deal of laity know the praises of her twenty-one forms by heart, just as well as the monks. Syamatara’s Tibetan name ‘Jetsun Drolma,’ which means ‘Venerable Mother of Liberation,’ points to that for which she is supplicated—she can swiftly remove obstacles.
The present image of Green Tara depicts her in a form derived from early Indian sources, yet clearly Tibetanized. The goddess is depicted in a way that originated in the Taramulakalpa, composed in the seventh century in India and transported to Tibet: she is a youthful female seated in the position of royal ease on a lotus throne with her right hand lowered in a boon-granting gesture and her left raised in a teaching gesture, a perfectly symmetrical figure, adorned with the thirty-two marks of perfection, with a serene expression and a high chignon with tresses of hair falling down on both shoulders.
Despite the formulaic iconography behind this efficacious ritual work of art, the lost-wax process employed to create this sculpture ensures that this important commission is entirely unique. The origin and date of this richly-gilded bronze figure of Green Tara is made identifiable by stylistic features such as her rectangular urna, aquiline nose, prominent chin, soft pursed lips, tubular limbs, pinched waist, and floral ornamentation in both jewelry and incised patterns. All reveal the influence of a sculptural style created by the indigenous inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley—the Newars.
The present masterwork exhibits a Nepalese style developed for Tibetan patrons in central Tibet. Previously, this sculpture was appropriately likened to murals of the Five Tathagatas in the South Chapel of Shalu monastery (just south of Shigatse), painted in the second quarter of the fourteenth century. The crown in particular can be found in the Belri or Nepalese style painting tradition that flourished in Tibet, epitomized by the fifteenth-century Gyantse Kumbum murals of Tsang Province.