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A RARE BUFF SANDSTONE FIGURE OF A SALABHANJIKA
A RARE BUFF SANDSTONE FIGURE OF A SALABHANJIKA
A RARE BUFF SANDSTONE FIGURE OF A SALABHANJIKA
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A RARE BUFF SANDSTONE FIGURE OF A SALABHANJIKA
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THE IRVING COLLECTION
A RARE BUFF SANDSTONE FIGURE OF A SALABHANJIKA

CENTRAL INDIA, MADHYA PRADESH OR UTTAR PRADESH, 11TH CENTURY

Details
A RARE BUFF SANDSTONE FIGURE OF A SALABHANJIKA
CENTRAL INDIA, MADHYA PRADESH OR UTTAR PRADESH, 11TH CENTURY
34 in. (86.4 cm.) high
Provenance
The Pan-Asian Collection (Christian Humann), New York, by 1981, by repute.
Barling of Mount Street, Ltd., London, by 1986.
The Florence and Herbert Irving Collection, New York, 6 October 1986.
Irving Collection, no. 1844.

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Tristan Bruck
Tristan Bruck Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Art

Lot Essay

The present statue represents a remarkably defined sandstone figure of a salabhanjika. Salabhanjika refers to beautifully idealized female figures standing beneath, or often intertwined with, a tree. Similar to a yakshi or apsara, salabhanjika are semi-divine celestial spirits commonly carved in sandstone to adorn exterior and interior temple walls across north India. Salabhanjika can be found in various poses, such as dancing, playing a musical instrument, or grooming as in the present example. Symbols of fertility, their feminine features are often highly exaggerated and richly adorned.
Human images have been incorporated into Indian architecture since at least the first century BCE. From the fourth through sixth centuries CE, as sculptural traditions developed under the Gupta Empire, the human form began to take more autonomous, naturalized, and individualist states. With the Gupta Empire spanning widely across the northern Indian subcontinent, artistic production at the time was marked by relative uniformity across vast geographical boundaries. After the downfall of the empire in the sixth century, distinct regional styles arose and by the eighth century regional stylizations had diversified to the point where scholars are able to speculate on a sculpture’s origins. In relation to figures of salabhanjika, apsara and yakshi, this distinction is evident in the female body form; as the temple sites move eastward into Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the center of gravity shifts from weighted hips to expanded breasts, such as the example here.
The celestial female in the present example is postured beneath a mango tree in a languid pose. It is said that the touch of the salabhanjika bears fruit to the tree, representing both earthly fertility and the life-giving force of the divine. The Shilpa Prakasha ("Light on Art"), an Orissan text from the eleventh century, emphasizes that temple walls must be decorated with yakshi and salabhanjika to ensure the temple will be fruitful. Figures with similarly weightless mango canopies are used as bracket figures in the interior of the popular temples at Khajuraho, the capital of the Chandella Empire.
The exquisite workmanship of the figure, marked by sharply defined features of the face and adornment, further highlighted by the pristine present condition and remarkable polish, is of note. The celestial being stands in full, with no major losses to the sandstone details. Grasping her eyeliner with manicured fingers, the salabhanjika applies kohl along her eyelid with the utmost precision as she glances into a mirror held in the opposite hand. She wears an elaborate jewelry set including a collar necklace of floral bud pendants so crisply carved, they are still sharp to the touch. The sculptor captures the movement of her hips through swaying sashes and jeweled leg drops affixed to her waistband and girdle. Her features manage to be at once highly stylized, idealized and exaggerated, yet organically composed.
Compare the present sculpture with a fragmented figure of a celestial dancer, with similarly styled hair, jewelry, square urna and mango tree at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (acc. no. M.79.57), published in P. Pal, Indian Sculpture, vol. 2, 1988, p. 114-115, cat. no. 44. Also compare to a similarly styled, well-known figure of a contorted celestial dancer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (acc. no. 2015.500.4.14), also from the Irving Collection. Also compare the present lot to a salabhanjika sold at Christie’s New York, 21 March 2012, lot 743. The two figures bear a striking resemblance to each other in attire and appareance, while commanding slightly different poses. The present lot, however, is in evidently superior condition, with crisp details still in tact.

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