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A painting from a Dashavatara series: Matsya
A painting from a Dashavatara series: Matsya


A painting from a Dashavatara series: Matsya
India, Mandi, circa 1820-30
Blue-skinned Vishnu emerging from his fish avatar and holding four manuscript pages in his hands, his golden mace, conch shell and lotus tucked into his dhoti, while the beheaded green-skinned demon slowly sinks below the water, weighted by his conch-shell body, the water elegantly swirling around the figures and the fish's eyes and fins delicately heightened with gold, all enclosed in blue and gold floral border with pink speckled margins, the verso with text, a folio number and collector's stamp
Opaque pigments and gold on paper
6 1/8 x 8½ in. (15.5 x 21.8 cm.), image
9½ x 12 in. (24.3 x 30.5 cm.), folio
Royal Mandi Collection, inv. no. 1255
Private collection, London, acquired in 2007

Lot Essay

As the first avatar of Vishnu, Matsya warned Manu, the first man, of an impending flood and ordered him to collect examples of all the grains and living creatures of the world into a great boat, which Matsya pulls to safety during the deluge that destroys the rest of the world. Later versions of the story add that the Vedas are hidden by the demon Sankhasura (literally, "conch-demon"), whom Matsya slays to recover the sacred scriptures, as illustrated in the present work. A later work from nearby Garhwal with nearly identical composition to the present painting is in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum (IM.21-1917); it is dated 1860-70 and additionally depicts Manu and other survivors in a boat.

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