The Philadelphia Museum of Art will present the first-ever exhibition devoted to Nepalese Art of the Malla period (1200-1769) — an artistic “Golden Age.” Marvels of the Malla Period: A Nepalese Renaissance 1200-1603 (December 22, 2007 – June 2, 2008), on view in Gallery 232, explores a time of remarkable creativity, when the fame of Nepal’s artists spread to Tibet, Bhutan, India, and even the Chinese court of Kublai Khan. The exhibition features 25 rarely seen masterpieces from the Museum’s collection and offers a stunning overview of a Nepalese artistic and cultural renaissance.
Beginning in the 13th century, rulers of various city-states in Kathmandu Valley added the name “malla” (meaning “victor” or “hero”) to their kingly titles and — fueled by newfound wealth from trade taxes and monopolies — competed to commission extraordinary public and private works of art. This competition resulted in sumptuous and eye-catching works, such as the bejeweled sculpture of Vishnu (late 15th – 16th century) on display.
Nepalese kings practiced forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, and both religions are represented in works throughout exhibition. “Most outsiders who visit Nepal today are amazed to see that Hindu and Buddhist worshipers often honor the same sacred works of art,” said Katherine Anne Paul, Associate Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art. “Perhaps the daunting challenge of learning about both religions — in addition to art historical styles — is the reason so few exhibitions have focused exclusively on Nepalese art, and why no other exhibition has specifically addressed the Malla period.”
The artists who created the dazzling works on display in Marvels of the Malla Period were primarily Newar — one of more than thirty major ethnic groups in Nepal. Newari served as the official language of the Malla courts, and the Newar population was, and is, concentrated around the Kathmandu Valley. Historically, as they do this day, Newar artistic workshops produce icons of both Hindu and Buddhist deities who often exhibit similar facial features as well as clothing and jewelry styles. Many of the works on display highlight the fashions of the Malla Period, including brightly patterned, form-fitting clothes as modeled in Nrtyadevi (mid-15th century) or ornate, eye-catching jewelry like that worn by a sculpture of Indra, King of the Gods’ Heaven (c. 1200).
Enhanced forms of existing deities unique to Nepal also developed during the Malla period. For example, in the statue Lakshmi-narayana (c. 15th century), Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of Good Fortune, comprises the left side of the figure, while her husband Vishnu serves as the right half. “This phenomenal work, along with the others in the exhibition, will I hope leave visitors wondering why this ‘Golden Age’ has been so little known for so long,” Dr. Paul said.
About the Collection of Indian and Himalayan Art
The Philadelphia Museum of Art houses one of the finest collections of South Asian art in the United States, including the spectacular Pillared Temple Hall (16th century) from Southern India; paintings and sculptures from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet; an important group of textiles; and a variety of decorative arts. Works from the Indian and Himalayan Art Collections are displayed in a series of galleries (224, 227, 229–232) on the second floor. The William P. Wood Gallery hosts changing collection exhibitions primarily devoted to 16th- through 20th-century art from India. Gallery 232 presents art from the Himalayan region, including Buddhist and Hindu paintings, metal images, and ritual implements.