Detail View: The AMICA Library: Vishnu

AMICA Library Year: 
Object Type: 
Creator Nationality: 
Asian; Indian Sub-Continent; Indian
Creator Dates/Places: 
South Indian
Creator Name-CRT: 
South Indian
Full view
Creation Date: 
Chola period, 11th century
Creation Start Date: 
Creation End Date: 
Materials and Techniques: 
Copper alloy
Classification Term: 
Creation Place: 
India, Tamil Nadu
H. 7 1/4 in. (18.5 cm)
AMICA Contributor: 
Asia Society
Owner Location: 
New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 
Credit Line: 
Asia Society: Gift from the Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Fund
The bronze sculptures of Hindu gods and Buddhist deities cast during the Chola period (880-1279) are among the most renowned sculptures in world art. The Cholas came to power in the late 9th century, and until the late 13th century ruled a large part of south India from their homeland near Thanjavur on the southeastern coast, maintaining diplomatic ties with countries as distant as China and Indonesia. Chola rulers were active patrons of the arts, and during their rule, literature, dance, and the other performing arts flourished. They also constructed enormous temple complexes decorated with stone representations of the Hindu gods.

Admired for the sensuous depiction of the figure and the detailed treatment of their clothing and jewelry, Chola-period bronzes were created using the lost wax technique, commonly known by its French name, cire perdue. Because each sculpture made in this fashion requires a separate wax model, each is unique, but because they are religious icons, Chola-period sculptures also conform to well-established iconographic conventions.

In addition to representations of Shiva and members of his family, other prominent Hindu deities are depicted in Chola-period bronzes. As it is assumed that each individual is at a different point of spiritual development, Hinduism accepts that each will pursue her or his religious life in the most appropriate manner, and most Hindus venerate several deities, choosing gods or aspects of gods that are appropriate to different situations and life passages. Moreover, Hinduism can be broadly categorized into three branches, each of which is focused on one of three major deities: Shiva, Vishnu, and Devi. According to Hindu beliefs, Vishnu descends to earth in different manifestations known as avatars in order to save the world and restore the balance of the universe. Vishnu appears in many guises, including a man-lion, a giant boar, and the gods Rama and Krishna.

This sculpture represents an unusual form of Vishnu, the Great Preserver in the Hindu pantheon. Striding on two lotus pedestals in front of a large flaming wheel, the god has sixteen arms, each of which once held an attribute. Many of these attributes are difficult to see and a few are missing where Vishnu's hands hands have broken off. It is clear, however, that Vishnu holds a wheel and a conch shell in his uppermost back hands, and a mace and a lotus in two extended front hands. The wheel (chakra) is a symbol for the act of teaching, the practice of rulership, and the passing of time. In Vishnu's iconography, it signifies the god's important role in the preservation and re-creation of the universe. In this small bronze, the large wheel and many hands of Vishnu illustrate the god's function as a universal protector. The strong, full physique of the god and his oval face point to a date in the 11th century.

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