Encountering Vishnu

You may call me crazy, but as much as I like the city, the only reason for me to move and live in NYC is the Metropolitan Museum of Art; I swear I would spend there every single weekend of my life.

George Lois contended that the DNA of talent is stored within the great museums of the world. I couldn’t agree more, museums are custodians of epiphanies and these epiphanies enter the central nervous system and deep recesses of the mind. The history of the art of mankind can inspire breakthrough conceptual thinking, in any field. One example suffices to prove my point: look at what the Met had in storage for us lunatics during a few months.

Ravi Varma Fine Arts Lithographic Press Shri Vishnu, 1894–1900 India, Lithograph; Sheet: 28 5/8 × 20 1/2 in. (72.7 × 52.1 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mark Baron and Elise Boisanté, 2012 (2012.523.6) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/78253
Shri Vishnu, 1894–1900

Vishnu is accompanied by his wives Sri Devi and Bhu Devi, who ride his celestial mount, the mythical man-bird Garuda, here depicted in full avian form. Vishnu is portrayed as “The Blue Lord,” richly garlanded in pearls and flowers, while his wives hold yak-hair fly whisks to fan their lord. All wear gold and jewel-encrusted crowns. Garuda has in his talons a cobra, the eagle’s mortal enemy, here symbolizing victory over nature spirits. This is a superb example of a chromolithographic Hindu devotional print designed by the famed artist Ravi Varma (1848–1906) and printed at his Fine Art Lithographic Press in Mumbai.

This print was part of the exhibition “Encountering Vishnu: The Lion Avatar in Indian Temple Drama”, in which Vishnu’s Narasimha (man-lion) appearance was celebrated with several dramatic sculptural depictions. They all explored the theme of Vishnu in his man-lion form, revealing himself at the court of an evil king in response to the king’s attempts to slay his own son for his unwavering devotion (bhakti) to Vishnu. This narrative was dramatically represented in painting as well, and when staged it was given heightened drama by the wearing of five powerfully expressive wooden masks recently acquired by the Met. This temple drama, known as Hiranyanatakam, is still performed in the Kaveri delta region of Tamil Nadu, in villages around Thanjavur in southern India.

http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2015/encountering-vishnu

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