Vishnu as Vamana (dwarf-avatar)

Historical period(s)
early 18th century
School
South Indian School
Medium
Opaque watercolor, gold foil, and paper applique on cotton
Dimensions
H x W: 21.7 x 13 cm (8 9/16 x 5 1/8 in)
Geography
India, Tamil Nadu state, Possibly Tirupati
Credit Line
Purchase — Smithsonian Unrestricted Trust Funds
Collection
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
S1996.61
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Painting
Type

Hindu painting

Keywords
chakra, dwarf, Hinduism, incarnation, India, lotus, naga, umbrella, Vamana, Vishnu, WWII-era provenance
Provenance
Provenance information is currently unavailable
Label

South Indian painting is a relatively new field of study as also of disovery. While the murals in temples and palaces have been known for a long time, paintings on paper or cloth have only recently begun to emerge. This double-sided painting on cloth, that depicts the vamana or dwarf avatar of Vishnu on one side, and Vishnu reclinging on his serpent on the cosmic ocean on the reverse, is a rare piece. It belongs to a series that seems to have formed an accordion-like temple hanging dedicated to the ten (or more) incarnations fo the god Vishnu;  two other paintings of the set featured the Narasimha or man-lion avatar, and the Jagannatha trio of Krishna with Balarma and Subhadra.

The term "Tamil Nayaka" is a useful one to describe this painting, as well as those produced during the 17th and 18th centuries to decorate walls and ceilings of Tamil Nadu temples like Chidambaram or Tiruvarur, and palaces like Ramnathapuram. Faces are generally shown in profile with a long nose and staring eyes picked out in white. Limbs are curved and fully rounded, "inflated" with the breath of prana. In the Ramanathapuram murals, it was a common practice to have lotuses hanging from the ceilings, as seen in this painting; however, they are not depicted as rounded and full as here. This painting, while belonging to the Tamil Nayaka tradition, seems to have been produced in its northernmost areas, and quite possibly from the Telegu region. It must be remembered in this context that the Nayak rulers used the Telegu language and script for the labels attached to their paintings as often as they used Tamil.

Published References
  • Thomas Lawton, Thomas W. Lentz. Beyond the Legacy: Anniversary Acquisitions for the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. vol. 1 Washington, 1998. p. 196, fig. 1.
Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
SI Usage Statement

Usage Conditions Apply

There are restrictions for re-using this image. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

The information presented on this website may be revised and updated at any time as ongoing research progresses or as otherwise warranted. Pending any such revisions and updates, information on this site may be incomplete or inaccurate or may contain typographical errors. Neither the Smithsonian nor its regents, officers, employees, or agents make any representations about the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of the information on the site. Use this site and the information provided on it subject to your own judgment. The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery welcome information that would augment or clarify the ownership history of objects in their collections.