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

Bowing to Art

Jar || Syria, probably 16th-17th century,
paired with
Venus Rising from the Sea || James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) || ca. 1866-870

Though he was famously suspicious of photographic reproductions of works of art, Freer felt an immediate affinity with Alvin Langdon Coburn, who came recommended as ”a young man of taste” who shared his host’s enthusiasm for the art of Whistler. Like Freer, Coburn believed that Whistler was preeminent among contemporary painters. Many of Coburn’s pictorialist photographs were indebted to both Japanese prints and Whistler’s tonal landscapes and urban views.

At Freer’s house, Coburn worked from six in the morning until ten at night to photograph the collection. During those long hours, Freer became comfortable enough with Coburn to pose for a series of portraits. Never intended for public display, these images document Freer’s intimate relation ship with his collection. Though it took ”heaps of hard work” to capture the ”elusive” qualities of the art, Freer enjoyed the photography project. He admitted to a friend, ”You will understand what fun we are having”. [source: Freer Gallery of Art]

Photographs of Freer with works from the collection, 1909, by Alvin Langdon Coburn

Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

March 21st, 2019

Double Take

Four Ladies by Thomas Dewing; with added shine in gold gilded frames, or frameless in all their plain glory. 

The Carnation, 1893 || Oil on canvas
Thomas Dewing (1851-1938)
The Carnation, 1893 || Oil on canvas
Thomas Dewing (1851-1938)
The Mirror, 1907 || Oil on wood panel
Thomas Dewing (1851-1938)
The Mirror, 1907 || Oil on wood panel
Thomas Dewing (1851-1938)
The Garland, ca. 1916 || Oil on canvas
Thomas Dewing (1851-1938)
The Garland, ca. 1916 || Oil on canvas
Thomas Dewing (1851-1938)
The Piano, 1891 || Oil on wood panel
Thomas Dewing (1851-1938)
The Piano, 1891 || Oil on wood panel
Thomas Dewing (1851-1938)

Frames designed by Stanford White (1853-1906)

Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

March 21st, 2019

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery |::| ░W░h░e░r░e░ ░A░s░i░a░ ░m░e░e░t░s░ ░A░m░e░r░i░c░a

Together with the Freer Gallery of Art, they form the Smithsonian Museums of Asian Art with permanent collections and temporary exhibitions of Asian or Asian-influenced art, bridging the differences of cultures in a unique way.As unique as ”The Peacock Room”, a magnificent example of cross-cultural art:

”Before the Peacock Room became a work of art by James McNeill Whistler, it was the dining room in the London mansion of Frederick Leyland. Its shelves were designed to showcase the British shipping magnate’s collection of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. Whistler completely redecorated the room in 1876 and 1877 as a “harmony in blue and gold.” Leyland was far from pleased with the transformation and the artist’s fee. He quarrelled with Whistler, but he kept the room intact.

Charles Lang Freer purchased the room in 1904. He had it taken apart, shipped across the Atlantic, and reassembled in his home in Detroit, Michigan. There, he gradually filled its shelves with ceramics collected from Syria, Iran, Japan, China, and Korea. For Freer, the Peacock Room embodied his belief that “all works of art go together, whatever their period.”

Whistler’s extravagant interior has been on permanent display since the Freer Gallery of Art opened in 1923. Located between galleries of Chinese and American art, the Peacock Room remains a place where Asia meets America.”

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

April 25th, 2017