John Eskenazi to present Hindu Gods and Serene Buddhas in New York

. January 5, 2012 . 0 Comments

John Eskenazi, the highly-respected London dealer in Indian, Gandharan, Himalayan and Southeast Asian works of art, will be presenting outstanding sculpture in his annual New York exhibition at Adam Williams Fine Art and Moretti Fine Art, 24 East 80th Street . Recent Acquisitions will be on view from 14 to 25 March 2012, as part of Asian Art Dealers New York and coinciding with Asia Week.


Goddess Durga, Vietnam or Cambodia Kingdom of Funan. Pre-Angkorian period, 7th century, Sandstone. Height: 31½ in, 80 cm.

The timeless beauty of the finest Southeast Asian sculptures is evident in a graceful figure of the goddess Durga holding a discus in her upper left hand. The sandstone sculpture dates from the Pre-Angkorian period, 7th century and comes from the ancient kingdom of Funan , situated on the Mekong Delta, which was once a great centre of international maritime trade. Indian merchants who were established there probably introduced Durga and other Hindu deities into the region. The 6th/7th centuries are known for such fine stone sculptures of gods in regal, stately poses. Durga is a heroic figure who, according to legend, was created by the Hindu gods to conquer the demon Mahishasura who had unleashed a reign of terror and who could not be defeated. Each god armed Durga with his most fearsome weapon. For example, Vishnu gave his discus which also symbolises the continuous cycle of creation and destruction of the world. The discus also represents the power of the mind, capable of destroying ignorance in the same way that the goddess eliminated the demon. Durga, whose victory is so energetically depicted in Indian art, is represented here as a serene authoritative figure, dressed in an elegant, unadorned skirt and a tall headdress.

The profound but unassuming authority of the Buddha is admirably portrayed in a life-size dark grey stone head fragment from southern Thailand , Kingdom of Dvaravati , dating from the 7th/9th century. Monks from India and Sri Lanka introduced Buddhism to the region and, according to tradition, the first Buddhist stupa to be built in Southeast Asia was at Nakhon Pathom, one of the principal cities of Dvaravati, a kingdom that dominated the southern Chao Phraya Valley until the 10th century. When Buddha images were introduced from India they were adapted, not copied, by local artists who injected them with qualities that reflected their own material and spiritual outlook as well as a distinctive physical appearance. Buddhism was an integral part of everyday life and political control and the rulers of Dvaravati used the faith they shared with their subjects to exert their authority and promote their good reputation. The few complete statues indicate that the Buddhists of Dvaravati wanted impressive images, often life-size or larger, the latter generally being known through surviving fragments. It is possible that when insufficient stone was available, the finely worked stone heads were attached to wood figures. The head offered by John Eskenazi is a remarkable testament to the skills and achievements of Dvaravati sculptors, with a strong yet gentle physique and deeply thoughtful expression.

Another serene image of the Buddha, seated in meditation, probably originated in Gandhara or Sahri Bahlol, from where the form spread to every region permeated by Buddhism. Dating from around the 3rd century AD, the Buddha is seated on a plinth depicting worshippers venerating his alms bowl, apparently after it was dispensed with by its owner. This indicates that the figure above represents the Buddha after his ascent to Nirvana, rather than during the course of his life on earth when the alms bowl would have been in use. Made from polished dark grey schist with traces of gilding, the Buddha’s face is classically handsome with a deeply introspective expression indicating his state of meditation. Behind his head an aureole was carved with radiating lines, suggesting the spiritual knowledge emanating from his thoughts. It was customary to paint devotional images but gilding was reserved for the most prestigious; a red pigment would have been applied to the surface of the stone to give the applied gold leaf greater resonance. Buddhism was a powerful element of Gandharan culture thanks to the region’s position at the hub of international trade routes, making it a place of wealth and learning. Great teaching monasteries, housing hundreds of monks, were established there accommodating pilgrims travelling to and from sites in eastern India.

A rare and beautiful gilt copper figure from the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, is believed to represent Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future. Maitreya is depicted with his hands held in Dharmachakramudra (the teaching pose), indicating his active involvement with Buddhists on earth. The unusual iconography suggests that this image belonged to a small sect following the doctrine of a specific teacher, possibly one who had escaped from Eastern India . In the 14th century, despite a succession of destructive raids from rival Himalayan kingdoms, the Kathmandu Valley provided a refuge for Indian Buddhists escaping the crushing advance of the Delhi Sultanate. This figure dates from the early Malla period, late 14th/15th centuries, a time of hope in Nepal reflected in the beauty of its art and architecture. Gilded copper is the appropriate material for an image of Maitreya as he is believed to be golden in colour. The appointed successor of the historic Buddha, for the present Maitreya is Lord of the Tushita Heaven where he will remain until his advent on earth. For Buddhists, admission to Heaven is not a permanent state; after a sojourn there, the spirit returns to earth, possibly at a lower level of life than it previously enjoyed but filled with the knowledge it needs to enable its continued spiritual progression.

John Eskenazi is well-known for his knowledge of the ancient cultures and his exhibitions in New York attract collectors and museum curators drawn to the quality and aesthetic beauty of the pieces on show. Since 2006 John Eskenazi has been a private dealer, available to clients by appointment. His expertise and scholarship in Indian and Southeast Asian art are internationally recognised and his clients include major museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London as well as discerning private collectors.

Category: Antiques News

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