The Enduring Image

The Exhibition


The cultures of the Middle East, South Asia (mainly India) and China are examined in this section. The concept of the human form as a means of describing the universe had great power and prominence in ancient India. Such notions. originating in India, spread with the expansi9on of Buddhism during the 1st millennium AD. This can also be traced in the Chinese and Japanese sections of the exhibition.

Metal vessels from the Middle East in the medieval period are renowned for their inlaid decoration. Two exhibited examples here show the wide ranging influences on them-the silver dish which draws on the iconography of Sasanian Iran, and the 'Vaso Vescovali' where multi-armed astrological figures suggest contact with the Indian subcontinent. A pen-box from Iraq is decorated with similar figures. The ceramics of the Islamic Middle East are equally well known Examples decorated in the lustre technique demonstrate two different functions-the architectural star tiles and the lobed vessel.

South Asia, the home of so much figured sculpture, is represented here in stone and bronze examples from various traditions-Buddhist, Hindu and Jain. The earliest are from ancient Gandhara and show a scene from the Dipamkara Jataka and a sculpture of the bodhisattva vajrapani, remarkable for its depiction of the bodhisattva as Hercules, wrapped in the skin of the Nemean lion. Other Buddhist sculpture comes from Amaravati the major Buddhist site in the Krishna delta and one of the early missionary centres. From the same region is a bronze sculpture of the standing Buddha from Buddhapad. The later history of Buddhism is recorded by a sculpture of Padmapani from eastern India, and a seated Buddha image from Nepal. A group of sculptures from Central and Western India in the distinctive sandstone of the region include a Jaina goddess an unusual sculpture of Brahma, and a standing female figure. The latest sculpture in the group is a rare five-headed Ganesa, accompanied by his consort.

Chinese civilization has concerned itself less with the human figure though an exquisite group of wrestlers of the Eastern Zhou period is an engaging early exception. Apart from the inscribed pillow; in the shape of a young girl, the two remaining exhibits are Buddhist-the gilded bronze Buddha image, a tour de force of the bronze-caster's skill and more distinctively Chinese, the porcelain figure of the Goddess Guanyin, a transformation of the Bodhisattva of compassion Avalokitesvara.


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