PROPERTY OF THE CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART, SOLD TO BENEFIT FUTURE ACQUISITIONS
Rhode Island School of Design, “Bronzes of India and Greater India” (11/2-30/1955)
San Francisco Museum of Art, “Art in Asia and the West: An Exhibition to Illustrate Varied Aspects of Asian Traditions and Their Importance for Art in the West” (10/28-12/1/1957)
Art Institute of Chicago; Nelson Gallery, Kansas City; The Cleveland Museum of Art; Asia House Gallery, NY, “Master Bronzes of India” (1965-1966)
The Cleveland Museum of Art, before 8 December 1997—10 February 1998 and 13 March 1998—20 May 2005.
Rhode Island School of Design. Bronzes of India and Greater India; an exhibition held the 2 till the 30 November, 1955. Providence, RI, 1955. Repr. on covers, #38.
Lee, Sherman E. “The Embracing Crescent-Crested Lord.” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, vol. 43, no. 8, 1956, pp. 179–182. www.jstor.org/stable/25142149
San Francisco Museum of Art. Art in Asia and the West: An Exhibition to Illustrate Varied Aspects of Asian Traditions and Their Importance for Art in the West, San Francisco Museum of Art, October 28-December 1, 1957. [San Francisco, Calif.]: [The Museum], 1957. P. 10, #4J.
Lee, Sherman E. A History of Far Eastern Art. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1964. p. 214, fig. no. 267
Master Bronzes of India: [exhibition at] The Art Institute of Chicago, the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, Kansas City, the Cleveland Museum of Art [and] Asia House Gallery, New York. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1965. fig. 37
Cleveland Museum of Art. Handbook: The Cleveland Museum of Art/1966. Cleveland, Ohio: The Museum, 1966. p. 235
Donaldson, Thomas E. Síva-Pārvatī and Allied Images: Their Iconography and Body Language (New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2007), vol. 2, p. 309, fig. 285.
While bronze icons were typically crafted as distinct individuals that may be brought together as components of a larger assemblage, forms like Alinganamurti unite members of the divine pantheon in a single manifestation. Some multi-figure bronzes, such as Tripuravijaya or Somaskanda, show Shiva and Uma on separate lotus bases over a shared rectangular plinth. By contrast, Alinganamurti positions the two on a conjoined oblong lotus. In this way, Shiva and Uma are represented as mutually empowering entities. The ultimate expression of their union is Ardhanarisvara, The Lord who is Half Woman, in which the God and Goddess share a body. In Alinganamurti, the couple is perfectly conceived as a unit. They are proportioned in balance to each other, such that Uma fits precisely into the crook of Shiva’s arm. Standing in similar postures, Shiva’s movements are subtly more pronounced than Uma’s to distinguish his masculine prowess from her feminine charm—the turn of the left foot, the sway of the hips, the deflection of the torso, and the tilt of the head. Each of these actions reveals the muscular engagement that represents divine energy.
The three separate portions of this sculpture reveal the sophisticated technique of production required for such complex bronzes. The figures themselves are solid cast and include a disk-shaped base beneath the feet. The disk is set into a separately cast lotus base over a tiered pedestal, here rectangular to accommodate the two figures. The bronzes were traditionally fabricated through a process of lost-wax casting, beginning from a wax figure as the primary image. The wax figure is packed in clay and the molten metal mixture of copper alloys is poured through apertures called sprues. The wax flushes away and the bronze solidifies as it cools. Cracking the clay open destroys the mould, and no identical sculpture can be produced. Each bronze icon fabricated in this manner is therefore entirely unique.
Chola bronzes were intended both as exceptional artistic creations and as a means through which to transmit the essence of the divine. The sculptures are specifically designed for portability. Here, the image is complete with upright prongs that originally supported an aureole of flames (prabha), and projecting loops through which to affix poles or tie ropes when carrying the image (for an example of Alinganamurti with the prabha, see C. Sivaramamurti, South Indian Bronzes, 1963, cat.69A). On festival occasions, bronze sculptures were made mobile through public processions, such that a greater number of people could see and be seen by the Divine. Simultaneously, the public witnessed the splendor that the patron had imparted. A procession typically begins in the interior of a temple. The bronzes are first bathed in the five sacred substances and then dressed and adorned with sacred pigments. Mounted on silver or golden pedestals, the sculptures are then bedecked with silk and cotton textiles, flower garlands, and golden ornaments studded with jewels.
In Hindu tradition, divine vision (darshan) is central to the process of worship. Here, Shiva and Uma’s faces are angled towards each other, such that their gazes converge at a single point. This is the position of the beholder. Through darshan, the viewer pays homage to the Gods, and the Gods in turn grant blessings. Devotional hymns of the Tamil saints extol the praises of the gods by vividly describing their physical appearance. Shiva bears water in his jatas, which are coiled into a crown replete with flowers, and he wears a crescent moon. Uma has a waist like the hood of a cobra. These hymns, compiled in the Tevaram anthology, center on the concept of a close, personal relationship with a god who remains constantly just beyond reach—such is the nature of transcendence. This proximity to god, expressed through a sentiment of love and longing, is referred to as bhakti. The text of the Periya Puranam, composed several centuries later in the court of the great Chola king Kulottunga I (ca. 1070 – 1120 CE), wove the legends of the saints together into a narrative expression of bhakti. The Periya Puranam associated Tevaram hymns with particular places and constructed reasonable itineraries of pilgrimage through the South Indian landscape. As a royally sponsored form of devotion, pilgrimage assumed a new level of prestige. So too did processions of festival bronzes.
Alinganamurti gained popularity as a bronze icon during the reign of Kulottunga I. However, it remained rare compared with the North Indian equivalent, Uma-Mahesvara. A limited corpus of early representations of Alinganamurti is known from stone sculpture. The first can be found in a Pallava context, in a relief carving at the Muktesvara temple in Kanchipuram. From the Chola period comes a tenth-century niche sculpture at the Visamangalesvara Temple, which is situated on the banks of the Kaveri River in the village of Tudaiyur. The deity also graces the walls of the Great Temple at Tanjavur (circa 1010 CE). Comparable bronzes are in collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (V. Dehejia, The Sensuous and the Sacred, 2002, cat.8), the Madras Government Museum (C. Sivaramamurti, South Indian Bronzes, 1963, fig.69a), the Art Institute of Chicago (P. Pal, A Collecting Odyssey, 1997, cat.17), the Indian Museum in Kolkata (T. Donaldson, Siva-Parvati and Allied Images, 2007, fig.286), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (P. Pal, The Sensuous Immortals, 1978, p.118), and several temples in the Kaveri region (S.R. Balasubrahmanyam, Middle Chola Temples, 1977, Pl.83; V. Dehejia, The Sensuous and the Sacred, 2002, fig.15; R. Nagaswamy, Masterpieces of Early South Indian Bronzes, 1983, cat.96). These bronzes display two types. In the first, Shiva cups Uma’s breast or encircles her waist with his left hand. In the second—as in the present example—Shiva’s hand is positioned around Uma’s shoulder. Although both types remained in circulation throughout the Chola era, the latter more often appears in the 12th Century. Shiva’s multistrand upavita, high waistband, and disk shaped earring, together with Uma’s crisply defined features and cinched waist, support a similar date for the sculpture. Superb in quality, this Alinganamurti represents the union of artistry and transcendence.
By Emma Natalya Stein, Yale University, History of Art, PhD. candidate.
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