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Renzo Freschi Exhibition

Renzo Freschi Via Gesù, 17
20121 Milano, 20121
Tel: +39-027-94-574
Fax: +39-027-639-9084


by Renzo Freschi

In the previous pages, and generally in many of the images in this catalogue, we can see numerous figures in various attitudes and postures. Whether offerers or deities, ancient or medieval, male or female, they enable us to catch the spirit of Indian sculpture and to appreciate its vitality, elegance and sensuousness. But where do these sinuous bodies come from, apparently rising to improbable postures like snake coils? Where do these sensuous forms originate, moved by an innate and uncontainable suppleness? Are these human or divine images? Do they move on the real or on the celestial plane?

Suspended in an aerial rather than earthly dimension, in a world without gravity, out of space and time, Indian sculptures chiefly represent male and female deities who are conceptually devoid of physical qualities, but who must acquire them in order to make themselves intelligible to man.

The bodies are young, curvaceous, vital, energetic, vibrant, for the inspiring models of sculptors and artists are the dancers and holy courtesans materially embodying an ideal of beauty transposed from a worldly and lay plane to attain a spiritual dimension. The movement of dance, with its harmony and grace, has thus the function of representing to the devotees the myths and stories of the gods.

The figures are idealised images, visible forms of an invisible content, for the object of Indian art is to reinterpret nature in order to allow the observer to transcend the human and enjoy the divine. In fact, the purpose of sculpture is not to describe the world of men, but to stimulate a mystic catharsis. A statue must be looked at in a pure and attentive mood, so that it may enable the devotee to transcend the human plane and to obtain a spiritual enrichment.

The faces carefully avoid any portraitural connotations and the eyes are almost without expression, or at least detached; in the medieval period they can be animated by a light, ineffable smile looking at the world of emotions with a benevolent inner detachment. The iconography sets rigid iconometric rules and the statues display perfect and regular proportions, without the differences and blemishes that characterise the various types of human bodies. It is for this reason that they virtually never show any accurate, realistic anatomy (musculature, veins, bones etc.), for in Indian art the body is a symbol that must have a beautiful and perfect shape, but its aim is to make the sacred visible, hence it must refrain from an excessive naturalism. Only occasionally do we observe skin folds under the breasts or on the sides of female figures, but these are poetic licences of literary inspiration celebrated in the Kamasutra.

The walls in the temples of Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh (9th-11th c.) are teeming with creatures often embraced in the most fancy erotic postures, living stone bodies exemplifying the countless postures of the Kamasutra. In these “temples of love” the plasticity and fullness of the forms underline the joyful sensuousness of the sculptures, which appear as a celebration of physical love and at the same time as a sublimation of the sacred. The bodies are shown in the S-shaped stance called tribhanga (the triple bend) in which the torso, hips, and legs are all orientated in opposite directions so as to create an extremely lively effect. The tribhanga, borrowed from the Hellenistic art of Gandhara but revisited with an Indian taste, derives from the ritual dances and suggests the ideal dance of the divine images giving life to temple walls. Already attested, albeit not so common, in the art of the Gupta dynasty (4th-6th c.), the tribhanga stance becomes a hallmark of Indian statuary in medieval times (9th-12th c.). The male and female figures are even more graceful and the exuberance of the forms is often mitigated by an athletic flexuousness. Thus the temple walls display beautiful demi-gods playing, celebrating, fighting, hunting, or sublime celestial nymphs caught in the act of looking in the mirror, applying make-up, combing, accompanying their melodious singing with sweet instruments, taking sinuous dance steps, sometimes scared, naked, by a scorpion climbing up their diaphanous dress, or gracefully extracting a thorn from their foot. The breasts, either bare or partially covered, but also enriched by elaborate jewels, are never just hinted, but always solid and vital—a metaphor of the life-perpetuating fertility, a symbol of motherly breast-feeding which, like the food produced by the earth, enables all creatures to live and grow. Their dress, a veil of very thin cotton, only covers the lower part of the torso, and like an allusive erotic game it hides the nudity, at the same intensifying the sensuousness of the forms. Their ornaments mark the bare legs, the high belts emphasise the wide hips, sometimes creating thin folds of skin or tightly gripping the soft flesh; their necklaces, swinging in the opposite direction to the flexed hip, heighten the dynamism of the bare torsos.

Indian artists prefer the low and high relief, only rarely do they sculpt in the round. In fact, the statues are placed in niches or against the temple walls, they often feature many arms holding various ritual objects, all characteristics that make an execution in the round complex and difficult, and yet their unrestrainable vitality seems to project them off the wall. The extraordinary ability of the sculptors in giving life to the stone is the allegory of a spiritual path, the transformation of human images into divine figures, for the plastic exuberance of the sculptures expresses a vital energy that comes from a spiritual force.

© Renzo Freschi
Renzo Freschi Exhibition
| Exhibitions