India, Rajasthan or Uttar Pradesh
Height: 67 cm
This highly three-dimensional stele of ochre yellow sandstone depicts Vishnu and his wife, Lakshmi. She is the position of royal ease, sitting on the left thigh of Vishnu, who is also in the royal ease posture, his left leg bent and the right dangling. Below them, Garuda, The half-human half-bird steed of Vishnu, holds up the hanging feet of both divinities.
The three figures follow the purest dictates of classic Indian beauty. Vishnu appears as a young man with a powerful torso while Lakshmi's breasts are bountiful. She has her arm around Vishnu's shoulder, and he has his arm around her waist. Garuda is depicted as a man with a moustache in an extremely dynamic posture, similar to a yoga position. His left foot is on the ground, his leg bent at a right angle. His right leg is bent backwards, with the sole of his foot facing the sky. In his two hands, he holds the feet of Vishnu and Lakshmi. All are wearing short dhotis richly decorated with beaded motifs. All are adorned with heavy jewelry: necklaces, arm bands, bracelets and earrings.
Vishnu is crowned with the royal tiara, or kirita, as is Lakshmi. He has four arms, and in two we can still see his usual attributes: the chakra and the mace. Lakshmi also is holding an attribute in her left hand, perhaps a lotus flower, or her fly-whisk.
At the top of the stele are a tortoise and a fish. These two animals are symbols linked to Vishnu. The fish is one of the main avatars of the god: Matsya. It is in this form that he saved the world from flooding. As for the tortoise, it is the symbol of strength and creation. It is also one of the incarnations of Vishnu, Kurma, in which the god helped Indra his fight against the Asuras.
The rounded shape, the supple positions, along with the refined, intricate sense of detail, are all characteristic of the period. The mastery of the craftsmanship makes this stele an exceptional piece that underlines the power of the two gods.
Property from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections.
William H. Wolff, Inc., New York.