The Sixty-Fifth A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts: The Thief Who Stole My Heart: The Material Life of Chola Bronzes from South India, c. 855–1280, Part 4: An Eleventh-Century Master Sculptor: Ten Thousand Pearls Adorn a Bronze
Vidya Dehejia, Barbara Stoler Miller Professor of Indian Art, Columbia University. In this six-part lecture series entitled The Thief Who Stole My Heart: The Material Life of Chola Bronzes from South India, c. 855–1280, art historian Vidya Dehejia discusses the work of artists of Chola India who created exceptional bronzes of the god Shiva, invoked as “Thief Who Stole My Heart.” Graceful, luminous sculptures of high copper content portrayed the deities as sensuous figures of sacred import. Every bronze is a portable image, carried through temple and town to participate in celebrations that combined the sacred with the joyous atmosphere of carnival. In these lectures, Dehejia discusses the images as tangible objects that interact in a concrete way with human activities and socioeconomic practices. She asks questions of this body of material that have never been asked before, concerning the source of wealth that enabled the creation of bronzes, the origin of copper not available locally, the role of women patrons, the strategic position of the Chola empire at the center of a flourishing ocean trade route between Aden and China, and the manner in which the Cholas covered the walls of their temples with thousands of inscriptions, converting them into public records offices. These sensuous portrayals of the divine gain their full meaning with critical study of information captured through a variety of lenses. In this fourth lecture, entitled "An Eleventh-Century Master Sculptor: Ten Thousand Pearls Adorn a Bronze," originally delivered at the National Gallery of Art on April 24, 2016, Professor Dehejia describes how a master sculptor of the early 11th century worked in wax to create spectacular bronzes for a temple at Tiruvenkadu, along the Bay of Bengal, and highlights the fact that royalty had no hand in these commissions. Drawing on the many epigraphs inscribed on Emperor Rajaraja’s great temple at Thanjavur, it examines the rich jewelry created entirely to adorn the bronze images and questions whether the Cholas’ obsession with pearls motivated them to annex Sri Lanka.