This is not the usual blog. It is a collection of seven examples from the catalogues of leading auction houses. But why? In all these seven cases, the auction houses got the identification wrong. Seven incorrect ones among hundreds of items I looked at. But still provides valuable lessons.
Example one (March 2006):
Catalogue description: ” A rare stone relief of Vishnu Chaturanana.
The standing figure with multiple heads and bearing the faces of his lion and boar avatars, holding a lotus and conch in his principal hands, the remaining hands radiating around him holding numerous attributes and flanked by diminutive figures of his personified attributes, Gadanari and Chakrapurusha, and with the Earth Goddess.”
My take: Chaturanana refers to Vishnu with four heads and here he is presenting himself with multiple heads and a number of arms. This is Visvarupa of Vishnu. Strange, despite remarking on the multiple heads, the auction house called it Chaturanana
Example two (March 2002):
Catalogue description: “A Bronze Triad of Vishnu. The separately cast figures on a waisted plinth with lion feet and arched Mandorla issuing from the mouths of Makaras and centred by a Kirttimukha mask, with Vishnu flanked by Lakshmi and Sarasvati, all richly adorned and worked in fine detail.”
My take: This is clearly from South India and has strong Vijayanagar influence (See the couching lions supporting the pedestal). In South Indian tradition Vishnu’s consorts are Sri Devi and Bhu Devi. It is only in the Bengal tradition, Bhu Devi is replaced by Sarasvthi. In any case, one of the traditional attributes of Sarasvathi, the lute, is missing here. This website has an example of the Pala tradition Vishnu triad. Well, there is one right below.
Example three (March 2007):
Catalogue description: “Two small Bronze figures of Vishnu and Shiva with consort. South India, Chola period, 13th century. Depicting Vishnu flanked by Lakshmi and Saraswati and Shiva and Parvati in an embrace, each on a stepped plinth”
My take: Basic. It is from the Pala/Sena dynasty. They ruled an area that includes parts of current-day Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and Bangladesh.
Example four (March 2008):
Catalogue description: “A granite figure of Vishnu South India, Chola Period, 12th/13th century
Powerfully modelled standing in tadasana, adorned with multiple necklaces and sacred garlands, backed by a flaming halo, Nandi standing behind with his tail curling on the right, the stone with rich inclusions of mica. “
My take: Really. A naked Vishnu with Trishul and accompanied by a dog? Hmmm. It is Bhairava, naked and wearing a Mundamala.
Example five (Sept 2015):
Catalogue description: “A BRONZE FIGURE OF A MAHASIDDHA
TIBET, 18TH CENTURY
Seated in Dhyanasana on an oval base with incised lotus petals atop a tiered rectangular base, his right hand in Vitarkamudra, wearing a short dhoti and sacred thread, the face bearded and flanked by pendulous earlobes and surmounted by a tall conical crown”
My take: The engravings on the base and the design of the base suggest this bronze is from South India. Mahasiddha wearing a sacred thread? It is most likely Agastyar. But for sure it is a Rishi made in South Indian tradition.
Example six (Sept 2015):
Catalogue description: “A GILT BRONZE FIGURE OF VISHNU WITH GILT-COPPER REPOUSSÉ MANDORLA
NEPAL, 16TH/17TH CENTURY
Standing on a beaded lotus base with eight arms outstretched and holding various implements, wearing armlets and necklaces, his face with a benign expression surmounted by a crown, backed by an openwork Mandorla with an intricate floral design and twelve attendant figures”
My take: This is Vasudeva Kamalaja, a combined form of Vishnu (right side) and Lakshmi (left side). Follow the long necklace, you can see the left side tracing the contour of her breast. The attributes confirm the identification. For more details see my blog on Vasudeva Kamalaja.
Example seven (March 2008):
Catalogue description: “Shiva and Parvati,
A miniature depiction of Shiva and Parvati seated on lotus thrones positioned on a common plinth. Shiva sits in the posture of relaxation (lalitasana) with one leg pendant. He is two-armed, forming vitarkamudra with his right hand, and resting his left on his knee. Parvati also sits in vamar dhaparyankasana holding a lotus in her right hand and forming the gesture of granting favours (varadamudra) with her left.”
My take: It is Rama, in preaching mode, accompanied by his consort Sita. Two-armed versions of Siva are rare. Even as Dakshinamurthy, when he is espousing knowledge, Siva is shown with four arms.
What can we learn from the seven incorrect identifications?
The auction catalogues are a valuable source of information. I continue to acquire them. Cross-checking and verifying is a useful tool. As a wise man once told me ‘ A good library is more useful to build a collection than a deep pocket’.
There is no substitute for building your own expertise.
Note: All the pictures in this blog are from the Internet and the copyright is with the respective auction houses. I did not name the auction houses in this blog and it is intentional.