Lot 815. A rare bronze figure of Shiva Nataraja, South India, Tamil Nadu, Chola period, 13th century; 8 ¾ in. (22 cm.) high. Estimate USD 100,000 - USD 150,000. © Christie's Images Ltd 2019.
Shown with one leg raised on the back of a recumbent dwarf, who plays with a snake, standing on a rectangular plinth, his lower arms held in dance mudras and his upper arms outstretched and holding a drum and flame, clad in a short dhoti and wrappednagas and sashes, with a chain swinging from his waist, surrounded by a flaming aureole and flanked by diminutive figures of musicians, who beat a drum and play the cymbals.
Provenance: The Pan-Asian Collection (Christian Humann, d. 1981), New York, by 1976.
R.H. Ellsworth Ltd., New York, by 1982.
Eastern Pacific Co., Hong Kong, 10 July 1990.
The Irving Collection, no. 2943.
Literature: Pratapaditya Pal, Sensuous Immortals, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1977, no. 77, p. 136-137.
Exhibited: On loan to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (L.76.24.8), by 1976.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum, Denver Art Museum, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery, Kansas City, "The Sensuous Immortals," 25 October 1977-29 October 1978, cat. no. 77.
On loan to the Denver Art Museum, by 1982.
Note: The present figure depicts the deity Shiva in his most dynamic form, that of the Nataraja, or ‘lord of the dance.” Standing with one leg raised and his arms extended around him, Shiva performs the ritual tandava dance, which in its entirety symbolizes the creation, preservation and destruction of the universe. In its climactic moment, depicted in the present bronze, Shiva conjures forth a wave of fire to end the world and its ignorance, personified by the dwarf he stands on, and prepares it for its rebirth by Brahma. This act of renewal is carried out to the sound of music, as demonstrated by the presence of the diminutive musicians at his feet.
The image of the Shiva Nataraja became prevalent in South India as early as the sixth century, but reached its zenith in terms of popularity during the Chola, and later, Vijayanagara periods, from roughly the tenth through sixteenth centuries. The image and its symbolism was particularly popular among the emperors of those dynasties, both for its projection of strength and ferocity, and because of its association with the arts. As well as being the sacred dance of Shiva, the tandava was also a ritual dance-drama performed at Shaivite ceremonies within the temple compounds of South India. As patrons of the temples and of the religious structure in general, the Chola and Vijayanagara emperors were also thus patrons of the tandava dances and other ritual performing arts. Chola and Vijayanagara rulers also sponsored the production of bronze images, and as such, figures of Shiva Nataraja were physical manifestations, and reminders, of imperial patronage of the arts and religion.
Compare the present figure with a larger figure in the Government Museum, Chennai, illustrated by C. Sivaramamurti in South Indian Bronzes, New Delhi, 1963, fig. 28b. Both the Chennai example and the present figure share almost identical depictions of the diminutive attendant figures, with the prostrate dwarf playing with a serpent, and the seated musicians beating drums and cymbals. The depiction of the chain wrapped around Shiva’s waist and dynamically sweeping out to the side is also remarkably similar. Dr. Pal, in The Sensuous Immortals, Los Angeles, 1977, p. 137, postulates that the Chennai example may have been the model for the present figure, which, due to its small size, was likely produced for personal worship. Other small bronzes with similar iconographic and stylistic depictions, also possibly based on the example in the Government Museum, are known, including a sixteenth-century bronze figure of Shiva Nataraja, sold at Christie’s, New York, 19 March 2013, lot 254.
A bronze figure of Shiva Nataraja, South India, Vijayanagara period, 16th century; 11¼ in. (28.5 cm.) high. Sold for 27,500 USD at Christie’s, New York, 19 March 2013, lot 254. © Christie's Images Ltd 2013.
Christie's. Lacquer, Jade, Bronze, Ink: The Irving Collection Evening Sale, New York, 20 March 2019