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.
This mighthy protector of the Buddha once stood guard at the entrance to Ebaradera, a temple in Osaka, Japan.
The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, National Museum of Asian Art
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
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.”
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