Naman P. Ahuja: Indian, Ptolemaic and Hellenistic Terracottas: Exploring multi-/trans-culturalism in Antiquity

Wissenschaftliches Kolloquium / Colloquio scientifico

Whereas the Hellenistic impact on the art of Gandhara is well-known to scholars, this lecture delves into the importance of a shared trans-cultural visual culture between Egyptian (Ptolemaic and Roman), Hellenistic (Seleucid) and Indian (post-Mauryan) antiquities, by focussing on the terracottas and ivories of Bengal, the Deccan and even sites in Northern India.

Indian terracottas reveal more than a passing resemblance with contemporaneous Egyptian and Hellenistic terracottas. Not only is there a predilection for using the technique of moulding and double-moulding, but looked at more widely we see them governed by similar iconographic concerns. Further, we are often equally at a loss to accurately interpret the iconography of the objects in Indian, Mediterranean or Egyptian terracottas; related as they are, not to the major public monuments and main icons, but to domestic worlds, grave goods, ex-votos, common beliefs in everyday rituals and festivals, many related to fertility and childbirth.

Artistically, terracotta is the medium where many ideas were first experimented upon before they were committed to stone. At the same time, many terracotta artefacts were used in ephemeral rituals and then discarded; their study thus permits an insight into those aspects of religious worship little studied by art-history where the emphasis has been on grand monuments of more durable materials like stone. Inexpensive and easily replaced, terracottas are by their very nature a source for a unique telling of a more personal history, reflective of a shared trans-cultural history of religious cults as worshipped in peoples' homes rather than what is evidenced from grand stone statuary alone.

Naman P. Ahuja is Associate Professor of Ancient Indian Art and Architecture at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, where his research and graduate teaching focus on Indian iconography, sculpture, temple architecture and Sultanate period painting. He currently holds a Nehru Fellowship at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teen Murti House. Previously he was a Fellow at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, where he authored a catalogue of the museum's collection of Ancient Indian antiquities. From 2001 to 2002 he was Curator of Indian sculpture in the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum, London. He was lecturer of the MA program on the Religious Fine and Decorative Arts of India at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies, London University) from 1998 to 2000 and Tutor of the SOAS / Christie's and latterly the British Museum's Diploma in Indian Art. He has curated several exhibitions in India and abroad on themes ranging from Ancient to modern Art. Some of his publications include: 'Divine Presence, The Arts of India and the Himalayas' (Five continents editions, Milan, 2003) which was translated into Catalan and Spanish, "Changing Gods, Enduring Rituals: Observations on Early Indian Religion as seen through Terracotta Imagery c. 200 BC - AD 200", in 'South Asian Archaeology', Paris, 2001, and, 'Ramkinkar Through the Eyes of Devi Prasad' (Delhi, 2007).

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