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Indian Art Treasures: Suresh Neotia Collection.

INDIAN ART TREASURES: SURESH NEOTIA COLLECTION edited by R.C. Sharma, Kamal Girl, and Anjan Chakraverty. Jnana-Pravaha, Centre for Cultural Studies and Research, Varanasi, and Mosaic Books, New Delhi. 264 pages, illustrated in colour throughout. Rs 3500.

Many art lovers have collected the art heritage of India but there are few who have generously shared the pleasure of enjoying it with other art lovers and scholars. Most collections remain enclosed in private vaults, to be admired only by a chosen few as they remain unexposed and unpublished. It is commendable that Suresh Neotia has published this catalogue of important antiquities from his collection for the delight of art lovers and scholars.

Authored by 26 well-known scholars, the volume is weighty in terms of the dignitaries associated with it. The catalogue opens with a foreword by Dr Kapila Vatsyayan, followed by a brief note by the collector himself, discussing candidly the dilemma faced by a responsible and sensitive collector of art--to retain or to renounce the possession. Mr Neotia gave a large part of his collection, most of which is included in this catalogue, to Jnana-Pravaha, the institute which he founded at Varanasi.

The catalogue comprises some stone and metal sculptures, terracotta, textiles, a few copperplates and coins, and a major section of miniature paintings.

The collection of sculptures ranges from the inscribed 1st-century BCE coping stone from Mathura to examples from the medieval period. Readers will particularly enjoy the red sandstone sculptures from Mathura--a male head and an early Gupta period head of Shiva with a prominent third eye. Two most astounding pieces from Uttar Pradesh are a powerful image of Kubera with luscious locks of hair around his meditative serene face, and a magnificently rendered red sandstone 7th-century image of Karttikeya. Equally interesting is a life-size image of Brahma from Tanjore which, though not unparalleled, is an exquisite image. Amongst the metal images, a miniature gold cast depicting a shalabhanjika, a Nataraja from Tamil Nadu, and a Ganesha from Himachal Pradesh will delight readers.

Terracottas are a passion with Mr Neotia. The catalogue includes a variety of them, from hand-moulded and applique work to moulded teracottas from the known centres of Mathura, Chandraketugarh, Kausambi, Bhitargaon, and others, including a magnificent mask of Bhairava from Nepal.

The miniature painting section is of course the raison d'etre of this publication, comprising Nepalese, Tibetan, and Indian sections, totalling nearly half the number of antiquities illustrated in the catalogue.

Though the early palm-leaf illustrated manuscripts and the book cover are of considerable interest, the highlight of the Nepalese section is a sketchbook of a Nevar artist, Jivarama, in the form of a thyasaphu or folding book. In the words of the commentator Professor John Huntington, the importance of this work is virtually impossible to overestimate. Not only is it an artist's sketchbook of the highest quality but it contains a colophon that provides vital information about the date of its creation, the artist who made it, and the historical circumstances under which it was made. The artist had travelled to Tibet and he captured the Tibetan forms and designs in his sketches with the intention of assimilating them in his work in Nepal. This magnificent manuscript was first displayed in the Nepal-Tibet gallery of the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai (now renamed CSMVS) thanks to the generosity of Mr Neotia who loaned it to the museum for a couple of years.

The Indian miniature section has examples from many known series of the Rasikapriya, Gitagovinda, Ramayana, Bhagavata, and Ragamala which could provide clues to some of the missing folios of these sets.

The section on Bikaner painting gives a glimpse of the development of the Bikaner school of painting and its beginnings in the high Mughal idiom.


The variety of Indian textiles is too vast to be covered by a select catalogue. A few samples of brocades, jamdani, Kashmir shawls, fragments of early woven textiles, and four exquisite embroidered rumals comprise this section of the catalogue. The system of providing technical details with each description is useful for the understanding of the structure of the textile. The intricately embroidered rumals from the Pahari regions, so far known as Chamba rumals, are now ascribed more generally to Himachal Pradesh, and probably to Kangra, by the author Rosemary Crill on stylistic considerations. Researches into the continuing tradition of this embroidery technique and its ethnic affiliations may conclusively prove the provenance of these rumals.

As many as 26 contributors, all of them stalwarts in their fields have authored the explanatory catalogue entries. In spite of such diverse authorship, a certain amount of uniformity is maintained which speaks for commendable editorial competence. The reviewer is pleasantly surprised to find the Sanskrit text provided with diacritic marks--a practice which has almost disappeared with digital composing. However, similar care in the design and production of the book would have made the volume much more visually enjoyable.
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Author:Desai, Kalpana
Publication:Marg, A Magazine of the Arts
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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