Taking my Beauty, Leaving me Pale

Bronzes provide a body through which gods make themselves available and accessible to humans. Inspired by the verses of south Indian poet-saints, sculptors sought to endow each bronze deity with breathtaking presence.

The poet Sambandar expressed the impact of encountering Shiva embodied as Lute Player, one of the god’s many forms:

The coral red Lord came to me chanting sweet Tamil poems.
He stayed, playing the lute, singing songs to the beat of the mulavam and montai drums.
Now he is gone.
Taking my beauty with him,
Leaving me pale as the kumil flower.

Shiva, Player of the Lute (Vinadhara)
India, state of Tamil Nadu, Chola dynasty, ca. 950 – Bronze
Shiva, Lord of Dance (Nataraja)
India, state of Tamil Nadu, Chola dynasty, ca. 990 – Bronze
White Avalokiteshvara (The Lord Who Looks down from Above)
Nepal, early Malla dynasty, 14th century – Polychromed wood

This mighthy protector of the Buddha once stood guard at the entrance to Ebaradera, a temple in Osaka, Japan.

Japan, Kamakura period, 1185-1333 – Wood
Komoku-ten, Guardian of the West
Japan, Kamakura period (1185-1333), Wood with polychrome, gold, and crystal
Lord of Burning Desire
Aizen Myoo, whose name means ”king of bright wisdom dyed in love”, is the avatar of sacred lust in esoteric Buddhism. Here, his red body, six arms, glaring eyes, snarling face, symbolic weaponry, and bared-tooth lion headdress create a threatening image. Yet he is seated on a throne shaped like a lotus, an auspicious Buddhist symbol, to remind believers of his benevolence.
The Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha (Jizo)
Attributed to Kaikei (act. late 12th – early 13th century)
Japan, Kamakura period, 1185-1333 – Wood with applied gold
Kaikei (act. ca. 1185-1220)
Japan, Kamakura period, early 13th century – Wood with lacquer, gold, copper, and crystal
Incense burner
Probably Syria, Mamluk period, mid-15th century – Brass inlaid with silver
Syria, ca. 1240 – Brass inlaid with silver
Iraq, Mosul, ca. 1240s – Brass inlaid with silver
Standing Buddha
India, state of Uttar Pradesh, Mathura, ca. 320-485 – Sandstone
The Enlightenment of the Buddha
After many years of mortifying his body through fasting, the Buddha ate some rice porridge and vowed to attain enlightenment through physical moderation and meditation. When the Buddha approached the moment of spiritual awakening, the god of desire and death, Mara, began to fear that he’d lose control over humankind.
Here, Mara’s demon army tries to distract the meditating sage. Selfishly attached to worldly power, the demons have distorted features, excessive gestures, or half-animal bodies. In contrast, the Buddha – symmetrical, central, still – serenely meditates. His right hand, lowered in the earth-touching gesture, signals imminent victory over death and desire.
Pharaoh head
Egypt, Dynasty 5 or 6, Old Kingdom, ca. 2675-2130 BCE
Chariot shaft ornament in the form of a dragon head
Late Eastern Zhou dynasty, ca. 400-300 BCE
China, late Neolithic period, Liangzhu culture, ca. 3300-2250 BCE – Jade
Thousands of jade bi (pronounced bee) have been unearthed in elite Liangzhu culture burial sites, yet their meaning, purpose and ritual significance remain unknown.
Wine horns are among the most remarkable Parthian ceremonial objects. Called rhyta in the Greek world, they were originally known in Persian as palogh and later as shakh (horn) or shakh-i bade (wine horn).
Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room
More than two hundred objects, assembled by the New York collector Alice S. Kandell over many years, reflect Tibetan Buddhist concepts and customs rather than museum conventions.
Japan, Heian period, late 12th century – Wood with gold leaf
Mandalas are abstract representations of the places where buddhas dwell. Although mandalas are usually meant to be visualized in meditation, they can also be painted and sculpted.
Empress Dowager Cixi
Katharine A. Carl (1865-1938)
Guangxu period (1875-1908), 1903
Oil on canvas
Frame: camphor wood
Arguably the most powerful empress in Chinese history, Empress Dowager Cixi (pronounced tsz xyi) dominated the court and policies of China’s last imperial dynasty for nearly fifty years.

The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, National Museum of Asian Art

Washington, D.C.

March 21st, 2019

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