Asokan Pillars IV

download Asokan Pillars IV

of 19

  • date post

  • Category


  • view

  • download


Embed Size (px)

Transcript of Asokan Pillars IV

'Aokan' Pillars: A Reassessment of the Evidence - IV: Symbolism Author(s): John Irwin Reviewed work(s): Source: The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 118, No. 884 (Nov., 1976), pp. 734+736-751+753 Published by: The Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd. Stable URL: . Accessed: 28/03/2012 19:24Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

The Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Burlington Magazine.








light and colour given to it to become an aesthetic and expressive agent equal with the human actors. The intensity and brilliance with which this resource has been exploited create illusion, but the illusionism is but one effect among a battery of ideas and sensations that the drapery conveys: among them a sense of majesty in its amplitude and sweep and of precious splendour in its luxury and colour that are appropriate to garb the Queen of Heaven and to enframe her Child. Later in his long career, Orazio would often be the supreme tailor in paint that Longhi describes,13 but here his intention reaches far above mimetic skill or fine visual sensation towards a region that makes analogue in its colour and its luministic force with the painting of the youthful Titian. Behind the devices of his art, however, there is a grandeur in Orazio's conception of his theme that gives his image its effect of a dimension that expands in the spectator's experience of it beyond the limits of its frame. The image combines majesty with seeming truth of actual existence, and grandeur with the closeness and particularity of a scene of genre. Beneath the modernity of Caravaggesque stamp that conveys the effects of reality and genre there is a set of traditional religious references of deep seriousness. The naked Child sleeps on the white sheet as on a shroud, prefiguring His sacrificial death.14 The Virgin, recalling a motif made famous by Raphael in the Madonna del Velo once in S. M. del Popolo,15 lifts her veil over Him. Commonly, the veil also may denote the shroud, but since the white cloth beneath Christ is here so explicit in its sense, it is likely that the veil intends a separate meaning. It is of course a traditional symbol of mourning, appropriate to this context; but it also calls to mind the custom of ancient Roman religion that required the celebrant at a sacrifice to be veiled, and in turn the r6le in the Christian Mass of the humeral veil1' As for example in LONGHI, op. cit., [I9gI6], p.272. Cf. G. FIRESTONE: 'The Sleeping Christ Child in the Renaissance', AIarsyas, II [1x942],pp.43-62. 15Raphael did not invent the motif: see FIRESTONE, op. cit., for earlier instances. The small Raphael School piece, the Madonna with the Sleeping Christ Child and St John in the Louvre is another instance of the theme. The most famous intervening example between those by Raphael and our Gentileschi is Sebastiano del Piombo's in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.14

which covers the vessels of the Eucharistic sacrifice.16 In His left hand the sleeping Child holds a fruit which ordinary experience would lead us to expect to be the apple of Original Sin, but which is not that nor the less frequent attributes of the peach, pear, or pomegranate. The fruit has been identified exactly as an apricot,17 for the presence of which in this context I have found no precedent or contemporary example. It would appear that we are dealing in this instance with a quite exceptional - and sophisticated - case of Biblical textual criticism. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge most likely could not have been an apple. Moldenke18 summarizes the long controversy about the identity of the Biblical fruit, of which the species proposed besides the apple include the orange, citron, pomegranate, quince, fig, grape and apricot. Only the last, Moldenke concludes after a careful review of the evidence, seems to meet all the specifications of the Bible references. This conclusion was a frequently published one in nineteenth-century writing on the problem, but I have not been able to find the source which, c.I6Io, supplied to Orazio Gentileschi the special and arcane knowledge that the apricot, not the apple, should have been the true fruit of Original Sin, which Christ's sacrifice meant to redeem. But it is clear, primafacie, that this learned substitution was what was intended, and the fruit in Jesus's hand supplies the motive and necessity for the sacrifice the theme foretells. It is conveyed, finally, that the whole image is, as it were, a transubstantiation into their real presences, here made splendidly visible, of the elements of the Eucharist: the body of Christ, in a sleep that foretells His offering in sacrifice, is revealed beneath the humeral veil upon His shroud, the cloth laid on an altar which is the broad lap of Mary Virgin, who is Mother Church. The image is as eloquent in symbol as it is in substance, a point of rare ascent in Gentileschi's art.18 Cf. in Italiana [ed. 1937], Vol.35, PP.32-33 and bibliography Encyclopedia thereto. 17 1 am very grateful to Dr Richard A. Howard, Arnold Professor of Botany and Professor of Dendrology, Director of the Arnold Arboretum, for help in this identification and for references to the botanical literature. 18 H. N. MOLDENKE Plants of the Bible, Waltham [19521, and A. L. MOLDENKE: pp.184-88, 286-87 n. 167.










evidence -IV:THE

SymbolismA wide gulf separates this interpretation from the one now to be offered. Yet, if the preceding articles in this series1 have achieved their aim they will have prepared the reader for rejection of the assumptions on which the traditional interpretation had been based and at the same time made him aware of new factors which call for a radically new approach.1 The firstthree articlesin this seriesappearedin THEBURLINGTON MAGAZINE, vol.CXV [November, I973], pp.7o6-2o; Part II in vol.CXVI [December,

interpretation of 'Abokan' pillars generally current over the last hundred years is that they were imperial monuments erected by Aboka during the twenty-five years between 258 and 233 B.C., expressly for the purpose of advertising his dharmaor 'Law'. As works of art they are said to represent an intrusive style inspired by Perso-Hellenistic tradition, thus attributing the beginnings of monumental art in India to foreign tutelage. 734

9. Sacred pillar in irrigation pond. North Bihar.

S10. Base of Garuda-pillar in temple

compound, Nepal, showing shaft resting on tortoise. Photo: RobertSkelton.



7. Relief depicting Pillar of Law. AmdirSvati, first century B.C. or later. Limestone. (British Museum). 8. Relief depicting Lion-pillar. Amdrivati, first century B.C. or later. Limestone. (British Museum).


Drawing for wall-painting at wedding ceremony. Mithila District North Bihar. Contemporary folk-art. Photo: National Museum,New Delhi.

12. The TeachingBuddha.Gandhara, North-west India.

Second-fourth century A.D. Carved schist.

to theBodhisattvas. Relief outside K 5rli cave-temple, Deccan. 13. TheBuddha preaching About fifth century A.D. Photo: Dr. Gritliv. Mitterwallner.










Among these new factors, we now claim to have proved beyond reasonable doubt that not all the pillars named after Agoka were in fact erected by him, and that when Adoka did start erecting pillars he was merely continuing an already well-established tradition. Structural analysis has shown that this type of pillar-architecture was wholly Indian. In so far as foreign influences are evident in the decoration, these borrowings are now proved to have been pre-Hellenistic: by the time they appear in the earliest surviving pillars, they are already transformed by Indian sensibility and imagination. Technically, the pillars have been shown to represent a very varied range, difficult to reconcile with a narrow time-span of twenty-five years. Finally, our new evidence has established at least the framework of a firm relative chronology, since corroborated by analysis of style-sequence. The resultant pattern now emerges as follows. EARLY GROUP (PRE-ASOKAN TYPE) emblem Ornament Crowning West Asian 'honeysuckle-and-palm(a) Bull or elephant, ette' (combined with indigenous naturalistic in style motifs such as padma-lotusand ndga(Rampfirvi, Sankisa or serpent-forms); also 'bead-andand Allahdbdd2). reel' and 'rope' ornament. (b) Lion, heraldic in style (VaiiMlionly). emblem Crowning (a) Lion, heraldic in style, either single or quadruple (former at Lauriya-Nandangarh and Rdmpfirvd; latter at Sanchi). (b) Quadruple lions (Sdrnath). Plain abacus; 'bead-and-reel' and 'rope' ornament below. LATER GROUP Ornament Indianized 'honeysuckle' combined with pecking-geese, 'bead-and-reel', and 'rope' ornament (as at Sdnchi); or the same without 'honeysuckle' (Lauriya-Nandangarh and Rdmpfirva). Disappearance of 'honeysuckle', geese, 'bead-and-reel', and 'rope' ornament. Abacus decorated with four quadrupeds intercepted by chariot-wheels.

In turning now to the symbolism