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Vishnu with two attendants


Artwork Details

Vishnu with two attendants
9th century
bronze with silver inlay
7 7/8 in x 4 5/8 in x 2 3/16 in (20 cm x 11.7 cm x 5.5 cm);7 7/8 in x 4 5/8 in x 2 3/16 in (20 cm x 11.7 cm x 5.5 cm)
Museum purchase, Acquisition Fund


March 28, 2009
Indian religious images make it possible for an all-pervading, but otherwise invisible, divinity to be seen and known. By taking anthropomorphic form, the deity becomes “real”—not as stone or bronze, but as a vision in the worshiper’s mind. Specific postures, hand gestures, and objects held in the hand—known as attributes—signify aspects of the god’s potency, making infinite powers conceivable in distinctly human terms. Like the stone sculpture of Vishnu adjacent to it, this bronze shows the god with four arms in his form as universal king. His front hands hold a conch and a lotus bud, while the back two rest upon small figures that personify additional attributes. The female, Gadadevi, represents the club, while the male, Chakrapurusha, represents the discus.
(Label for UMMA South and Southeast Asia Gallery Opening Rotation, March 2009)

Subject Matter:

Vishnu is one of the principal gods of Hinduism, along with Shiva and the goddess, and commands a large following. He is often depicted with four arms and consistently carries four attributes: the discus, conch, club and lotus.
Kashmiri bronzes are renowned for their aesthetic and technical brilliance. This elegant figure of Vishnu is a fine example of Kashmiri craftsmanship, which often includes silver inlay. Vishnu stands with a subtle tribangha or “thrice-bent” sway to his body. As usual, he has four hands, the front two holding the conch and a lotus bud while the back two hang at his sides, seemingly presenting the two small attendant figures. The attendants in this case are not Vishnu’s consorts, but anthropomorphic representations of his signature weapons: the female Gadadevi, on his right, represents the club, while the male Cakrapurusha, on his left, represents the discus. The gender of the weapon reflects the gender of the personified figure.
Over the centuries, the surface of the image has been worn down by devotees who lovingly stroked it or anointed it with butter or pastes of aromatic substances, such as turmeric or sandalwood.

Physical Description:

Vishnu stands with a slight sway to his body with his right hip thrust out, the tribhangha of “thrice bent pose.” He has four hands to carry his attributes, his front two hold a lotus bud and a conch. The back two hang down and rather than carry his two weapons are placed on personified figures of them. At is right is the personified club and on his left his discus. He wears a diaphanous lower cloth that is so sheer, it appears almost invisible, only the folds of the garment are articulated. He wears a long garland down almost to his feet and a sacred thread to his waist. He also wears various pieces of jewelry, including armlets, large earrings and an elaborate crown. The whole is quite worn due to the way the image has been handled by devotees, who have touched it and applied various substances to it. His eyes had been inlayed with silver to add a certain realism to the piece.

Usage Rights:

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