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Marcel Nies

3. Portrait of Shiva Mahadeva
Nepal, Thakuri 11th century
Gilt-copper, cast in the lost wax method
Height 41 cm
Portrait of Shiva Mahadeva

Shiva, the powerful Hindu god of destruction and creation, is venerated in both aniconic and iconic forms. The worship of the aniconic lingam, a symbol of his energy and potency, is older and more popular than the worship of Shiva in anthropomorphic form. In Nepal, in the Licchavi and Thakuri periods, the mukhalingam – a lingam with the face of Shiva –appeared, combining the aniconic and iconic form of the creator-destroyer. This portrait is thought to have served as an important presentation of Shiva at occasions of worshipping aniconic stones in shrines or temple facades.

The vertical third eye in the forehead indicates this to be the face of Shiva Mahadeva. He wears a pearl-beaded necklace and a diadem is entwined in massy braids of hair that are piled up into an elegant jatamukuta and adorned with a skull, a crescent moon and jewels. His right earring boasts snakes and a small image of a nagaraja in anjali mudra, praying to the ‘Great Lord’. The Thakuri period is also referred to as the Transitional period. In 869, when the Licchavi rule came to an end, the Thakuri king Raghava Deva founded a ruling dynasty in Central Nepal. The Thakuri kings ruled until the twelfth century, when they were succeeded by the Mallas. Shiva Mahadeva’s face is in purely Nepalese style, with conspicuous characteristics of the Thakuri period; a tiara with a single diadem, strings of thick pearls that continue the style of earlier Indian tradition, and the shape of the earrings and necklace.

This extremely rare portrait of Shiva is radiantly alive, expressing extraordinary serenity. The passage of many centuries in the environment of Newar worship, where the gods are adorned, bathed and rubbed, has given the sculpture a rich patina of contrasting colours of copper and gold, set off by the two crystals embedded in the diadem and necklace.

Collection Mr I. Alsop, USA, before 1995.
Collection Mr and Mrs J. Meijer, the Netherlands, 1995-2016.

Spirit of Compassion, Himalayan Images of the Past, Present and Future, Marcel Nies Oriental Art, Antwerp, 1995, pp. 16-17.
J. Van Alphen, Cast for Eternity, Bronze Masterworks from India and the Himalayas in Belgian and Dutch Collections, Ethnographic Museum, Antwerp, 2005, pp. 114-115, fig. 31.

P. Pal, Art of Nepal: a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection, Los Angeles, 1985, figs. S19, S30.
Idem, The Arts of Nepal, volume 1, Sculpture, Leiden, 1974, figs. 32, 125.

all text, images © Marcel Nies
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