26 in. (66 cm.) and 18 in. (47 cm.) high
Dr. J.R. Belmont Collection, Basel, by 1955, by repute.
The Pan-Asian Collection (Christian Humann Collection), by 1972.
The Collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, New York, by 1982.
Christie’s New York, 23 March 1999, lot 35.
On loan to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (L.72.18.3 and L.72.18.4), 1972-1977.
On loan to the Denver Art Museum (70.1977 and 97.1977), 1977-1982.

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Tristan Bruck
Tristan Bruck

Lot Essay

Seated in a regal stance, with poised dignity, the present bronze group depicts the divine couple of Shiva and his consort, Uma. Shiva sits facing frontally with his torso upright, his lower proper right hand in abhayamudra (conferring protection or reassurance) and the lower proper left in ahuyavarada (inviting the conference of boons); in the other two he holds his weapon, the battle-axe, and his favorite companion, the antelope, the head of which is turned in to face his lord. His short and unadorned dhoti is secured at the waist with a belt centered with a kirtimukha buckle, while he is further adorned with a single sacred thread draped over the shoulder, which hangs diagonally over the body, a high waist band, three necklaces, armlets and anklets, and a large single earring. His long dreadlocks of hair, jata, are braided into a high chignon atop his head. Uma’s pose is more relaxed, and subtly angled to her right to face her husband. Her proper right hand is held in katakamudra (as if to hold a lotus), and her proper left is in varadamudra (gift giving). Her close-fitting garb reaches down to her ankles, the folds elegantly incised across her calves and thighs, and an ornate girdle is clasped below her waist. Sacred threads elegantly fall across the contours of her torso, including the trivali tarangini (three rows of waves) at her stomach. Her hair is gathered into a tall chignon and secured by a domed crown, while a few locks hang elegantly over her shoulders. The couple sit in the pose of royal ease, lalitasana, with one leg pendant, on separately-cast cushioned lotus bases.
Attributed to the late 13th-early 14th century, and confirmed by the leading experts on classical Indian art, Professor Vidya Dehejia and Dr. Pratapaditya Pal, the present Shiva-Uma pair are some of the finest examples of late Chola-early Vijayanagara-period sculpture to come to the market. It is during this period, climactic and political disruption took place in the Chola regions. The last imperially-sponsored Chola temple, Kampaheswarar at Thirubuvanam, was built by Kulothunga Chola III in 1212, and towards the middle of the century, certain merchants (specifically, a merchant named Uttaman Nambi) helped to rebuild the Maraikadu Temple, which had fallen into disrepair and had suffered from the theft of processional bronzes. By 1279, the Chola kingdom was disbanded entirely.
In spite of the turmoil of the 13th century, however, Professor Dehejia states that “magnificent bronzes were produced even during this troubled period,” (Dehejia, “The Thief Who Stole My Heart: The Material Life of Chola Bronzes from South India, c. 855-1280 – Part 6, Worship in Uncertain Times: The Secret Burial of Bronzes in 1310,” The Sixty-Fifth A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 8 May 2016) citing as examples the magnificent 13th century bronze images of Krishna as king with two consorts and his royal mount, Garuda, now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.70.69.1-.4). According to Dehejia, there is “a predilection for sharp definition, whether of the nose or of the nipples, and a closer than ever attention to details to jewelry and ornamentation. ...[Images are] admirable for [their] precise execution. By the mid-13th century, bronzes are created that are solemn, dignified, regal, stately (Dehejia, ibid., 2016).” In contrast to the languid forms of the early Chola period, bronzes of the late Chola and early Vijayanagara periods showed a proclivity towards a muscular, exaggerated physique, as well as greater attention to the intricate details of jewelry, drapery, and bodily features. Figures of Shiva, for example, have robust torsos with wide shoulders and chest, and abdomens swelling with yogic energy. The long lengths of their legs are emphasized by defined shins that have an almost triangular edge. Bronze images of their counterpart, Uma, have fleshier stomachs with exaggerated trivali tarangini and larger and more defined breasts.
The present images are monumental representations of the divine couple from this period of upheaval. Seated on their tall and elegantly waisted and cushioned lotus bases, the image of Shiva alone stretches more than 26 inches (66 cm.) from his outstretched foot to the top of his jatamukuta. In all certainty, the pair would have sat on a separately cast bronze base that would have joined the two images, increasing the overall size of the group considerably. Compare that size with the bronze images of Shiva and Uma from the early Chola period, which typically top out at around 21 in. (53.3 cm.), such as the work dated to the late 10th-early 11th century at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which measures 18 ½ in. (47 cm.) high, illustrated by J. Guy in Indian Temple Sculpture, London, 2007, p. 99, fig. 106, or the example at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1980.220.10), dated to the early 11th century, which is 20 7/8 in. (53 cm) high.
In many cases, artisans working under the Chola dynasty or its successive and short lived Pandyan kingdom passed along their expertise and knowledge to the next generation of artisans working under the Vijayanagara, who established their empire just fifty years after the fall of the Cholas. Bronzes from the late Chola, Pandya, or early Vijayanagara periods do not exhibit any drastic fluctuations from previous traditions coinciding with political change, but instead display the steady and natural transformation and evolution of styles over centuries that is typical of a strong and embedded artistic tradition like that of bronze sculpture of South India.
South Indian images of the divine couple, such as the present lot, and their attendant deities are based on hymns created by poet-saints, Nayanars, who lived between 600 and 800 AD. Among them were three main saints, Sundarar, Appar, and Sambandar, that wrote seven hundred hymns that form the sacred liturgical body recited in Tamil temples. These hymns extol the feats of Shiva and his irresistible beauty. The artist has manifested the poetic ecstasy of these saints into evocative, sensuous, and idealized forms of Shiva and Uma.
In the traditions of South India, images of Shiva and Uma are considered some of the most important for religious rites. While there were numerous royally-sponsored Vaishnavite temples, as well as some contemporary Buddhist and Jain centers, the vast majority of South India during the Chola dynasty worshipped Shiva, with the largest festivals by far devoted to the Shaiva sect. In the South Indian tradition, it was said that in order for Shiva to bestow his beneficence upon the worshipper, Uma must also be present; no matter how humble or rich the temple, therefore, the two images considered essential were the linga, the aniconic form of Shiva, and the anthropomorphic group of Shiva and Uma, as in the present work. In the Shaivite Agamas, the religious texts prescribing proper worship, it is even said that the bronze images of Shiva and Uma can stand in for any ritual if the temple does not have the specified image.
In contrast to the Vaishnavite tradition, which believed that bronze or stone images of Vishnu were considered permanent manifestations of the deity, images of Shiva, including even the linga, and his attendant deities are considered temporary vessels for the visit of the gods. In a process known as avahana, or invitation, the priest encourages the deity to visit for a short time so that he can see and be seen by his devotees, a form of worship known as darshan. At the close of the ritual, the priest performs the ceremony of visarjana, allowing the deity to leave.
While considered the most powerful and primeval form of Shiva, the linga was permanently sited within the garbhagriha (inner sanctum) of the temple and thus inaccessible to the masses of common people, some who might not be able to visit regularly, and others who would have been denied access due to caste. Processional ceremonies and rituals, therefore, were developed that brought smaller portable images of Shiva and other gods out of the temple and into the surrounding towns and countryside. In doing so, they not only purportedly blessed and enriched the land with their divinity, but also allowed the common people to partake in the act of darshan. Out of this necessity for portable images emerged the great South Indian bronze-casting tradition. The earliest reference to processional bronzes can be found in the seventh-century devotional poems of the Nayanar, Appar: “He goes on his begging rounds / amid the glitter of a pearl canopy / and gem-encrusted golden fans. / Devoted men and women follow him, / along with Virati ascetics in bizarre garb” (V. Dehejia, The Sensuous and Sacred, Seattle, 2002, p. 14).
The commission and production of such processional bronzes was in of itself a meritorious act by royal or wealthy devotees. While the construction of temples was considered the ultimate demonstration of kingly wealth and power, the commissioning of bronzes was within the financial accessibility of the nobility, merchant and priestly classes. As the cost of production, in precious materials and manual labor, was relatively high, the production of bronze images exhibited the latter’s dedication and devotion to the Shaivite religion, which was intrinsically tied to the political power structure of the Chola empire. An inscription at the great Brihadeswara Temple in Tanjavur, for instance, records the donation of sixty-six processional bronzes, commissioned by the king Rajaraja I, his family, and various nobles, priests, and merchants (V. Dehejia, Chola, London, 2006, p. 18). In this period, Shiva became the intense focus of unquestioning devotion.
The artisans of the Chola period used the ‘lost-wax’ casting technique to produce the bronze images that are now considered some of the most magnificent in history. The image to be cast is first modeled in malleable beeswax, and the fine details of the face, drapery, and jewelry carved and incised with a stylus. Once ready, the image is hardened in cold water and covered with several layers of clay, which is then fired, allowing the wax to melt and escape through sprues, leaving a hollow clay mold. The mold is then filled with molten bronze and allowed to cool. Once the clay is broken away, the result is a nearly finished bronze image, which awaits only the smallest of finishing work from the artisan casters. The pupils of the eyes, for instance, were incised to provide a life-like quality to the bronze; in many cases, rituals reenacting this process were carried out in the confines of the temple, symbolically imbuing the image with its divine nature. The casters themselves were required to take rites of abstinence before the process, thus ensuring ritual purification of the images themselves (Dehejia, 2006, p. 21). This particular form of lost-wax process makes each piece unique, unlike other bronze casting tradition where a clay or plaster model is retained. Thus, only a limited body of works exist of the caliber as the lot on offer, having emerged from the workshops of a master artisan, and they were, as such, extremely rare and honorific to the patron even in contemporary times.
The importance of the present lot is further enhanced by its provenance going back to the Pan-Asian Collection. The bronzes were originally acquired by the esteemed collector, Christian Humann (d. 1981), who's collections of Indian, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian art were largely housed and exhibited at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Denver Art Museum, and was titled The Pan-Asian Collection by Dr. Pal, then curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at LACMA. Characterizing the collection, Dr. Pal wrote in the opening of the accompanying catalogue to the ground-breaking exhibition, The Sensuous Immortals, Los Angeles, 1977, p. 6, "there is no doubt in my mind that it is by far the most important and comprehensive collection of South and Southeast Asian sculptures in private hands today." Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, the renowned dealer and collector of Asian art, acquired The Pan-Asian Collection following Mr. Humann's death in 1981, and over time, several works entered important private and public collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Mr. Ellsworth's private collection of Asian art and furniture, one of the greatest collections of Asian art to come to auction, was sold in a record-breaking sale at Christie's New York in March 2015.
Compare the present work with a large and important 13th-century bronze group of Shiva and Uma from the collection of August C.F. Ferber, on loan at the Minneapolis Museum of Art from 1953-2008 and sold at Christie’s New York, 20 March 2009, lot 1287. Both figures in the Ferber example sit on separately cast and waisted lotus bases, with Uma’s in particular displaying the wide lotus petals found on the present work. The Ferber example also portrays the two deities with robust, exaggerated features common to this period and similar to the present example, such as the wide shoulders and powerful limbs of Shiva and the fleshy abdomen and spherical breasts of Uma. There is also an arresting affinity in the representation of ornamentation and detail; in particular, the treatment of jewelry, including Shiva’s three necklaces, evenly spaced with the lowest depicted as a garland of flowers across the chest, and his kirtimukha belt buckle, is very similar in both sculptures and seems to be a development of the late 13th century.
See, also, a bronze figure of Shiva, likely to have once been part of a similar Somaskanda grouping, from the Collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, sold at Christie’s New York, 17 March 2015, lot 22. Dated to the 12th century, the figure sits on a similarly formed lotus base with wide petals. The physique and proportions bear close comparison, and the treatment of Shiva’s jatas are closely related. The comparison of the Ellsworth Shiva and the present group demonstrates the overall conservatism of style during the Chola period, with certain features found in the later part of the era already emerging in the 12th century.
Comparing the bronzes of the later 13th century with the earlier Chola examples of the 10th century, Dehejia compares the variation as “preference for Bernini’s exuberance or Michaelangelo’s restrained power…not a diminishing of artistic talent, nor a weakening of interest on the part of patrons. Rather a change in taste and a corresponding intentionality of response on the part of the artist” (Dehejia, ibid., 2016).

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