History of Asian Art 3A
Vishnu and Shiva at the Norton Simon
In Southeast Asia art is influenced by Hinduism and is often depicts just a few characters: primary the god’s Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. Although the subject matters are often of the same representation, at times they can be hard to distinguish from one other to the untrained eye. Despite the variances of artistic styling, diachronically and synchronically, the symbolism remains the same. Through understanding the iconography of Vishnu and Shiva one can retell the story of Hindu art. The distinguishing traits that set Vishnu apart from other figures are that he is rendered with a crown, often looking like a tall cone shaped hat. His chest is shown with the srivasta mark, or a jewel, symbolizing his wife Lakshmi. He has two main consorts Lakshmi and Saraswati. Draped from Vishnu’s shoulders is a garland of flowers, vanamaalaa. Although other deities will also have multiple arms, Vishnu is always depicted to have four arms. The two front arms indicate the physical world and the two back arms denote the spiritual realm. His mount, vahana, Garuda is a zoomorphic eagle with the head of a man. He also has many avatars in which he is portrayed as. Vishnu is found holding four items; a conch shell, a wheel or disc weapon representing the chakra, a mace, and a lotus flower. Within the collection of artworks in the Norton Simon Museum Vishnu is depicted in ways that both easily recognizable, and subtle. Sometimes works will even give the impression of Vishnu but are actually other deities or figures. Vishnu is clearly represented in a 10th century brownish-grey schist relief called “Vishnu as Vaikuntha.” This three-headed version of Vishnu, shows Vishnu as the boar avatar and man-lion avatar. He holds in his upper hands a lotus flower and conch shell while his lower hands touch the heads of a club-women and wheel-man. His body is also embraced by a garland. In a sandstone...
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