Lot 1023
  • 1023

AN ELEGANT BRONZE FIGURE OF APPAR SOUTHERN INDIA, CIRCA 13TH CENTURY

Estimate
400,000 - 600,000 USD
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Description

  • Bronze
  • Height: 22  3/4  in. (59 cm)
The saint pictured standing in graceful tribhanga on a lotus base over a square plinth, with his hands folded before his chest cupping a ball of flowers, clad in a short veshti and adorned with rudraksha beads, his face with large almond-shaped eyes, pointed nose and beatific smile.

Provenance

Dr. J.R. Belmont, Basel, before 1968.
Pan-Asian Collection, 1968-1983.
Christie's New York, 13th September 2011, lot 270. 

Exhibited

On loan to the Denver Art Museum, 1977-1983. 

Catalogue Note

The creation of bronze images for the purpose of worship began in the eighth century during the Pallava period but the art of metal casting reached its apogee under the patronage of the Chola monarchs. Chola bronzes were made from wax models using the ‘lost wax’ or cire perdue process. The finest bronzes comprised an alloy of at least five metals (panchaloham), which included copper, tin, lead, gold and silver. The fact that these were solid cast indicates the extent of the expense undertaken in the production of these ritual icons. Besides the skill required in casting, Chola craftsmen perfected the harmony of line and form in these images creating some of the finest freestanding sculptures in existence. The perfect equipoise of the saint in the present image attests to the mastery achieved by the bronze casters while his serene, idealized countenance captures the spirit of bhakti or loving devotion closely associated with the subject.

Bronze images such as these were objects of devotion in Shaivite shrines. Shiva was the kulanayaka or dynastic patron deity of the Chola Emperors. They built shrines dedicated to his worship throughout their lands which were repositories for numerous bronze images of the Lord and his pantheon including the nayanmars, a group of sixty-three Shaiva saints who are widely venerated in South India. These holy men traveled throughout the land singing hymns in praise of the Lord Shiva and their songs and poems form a rich corpus of devotional literature constituting the core of the Tamil sacred canon, known as the Tevaram.

The most famous of the nayanmars was the child saint Sambandar who is reputed to have lived in the seventh century. The saint Appar, subject of the present image, who was older, was his contemporary and it is believed that the title Appar, or “revered father,” was conferred upon him by Sambandar.  Appar was a Jain monk who converted to Shaivism and is thus portrayed with a shaved head. He approached Shiva as a humble servant and performed menial tasks in his temples including clearing the weeds that sprang up within the temple premises. That is why he is commonly pictured with a hoe in the crook of his arm. In early images the hoe was cast along with the figure. Later it was added separately. The present image is missing its hoe but Appar’s gentle, humble persona is very accurately portrayed.

Alongside the worship of Shiva there were specific festivals in the calendar celebrating the nayanmars themselves. As part of ritual practice, the images were lustrated with water, honey, butter and milk and rubbed down with ash. They were then anointed with sandal paste and vermilion, clothed, garlanded and carried around the town or temple premises in ritual procession so that all devotes had the opportunity to gain a darshan or view of the holy icon.

This image has passed through the hands of some of the most legendary collectors of South Asian Art in the twentieth century - J. R. Belmont, Christian Humann and Robert Hatfield Ellsworth. For a closely related figure of Appar in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, see Vidya Dehejia, The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola Bronzes from South India, New York, 2002, cat. 29, pp. 156-57.

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