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Asian art Indian subcontinent

The Art of the Indian Subcontinent gallery houses a treasury of rare and valuable works of art spanning nearly two thousand years of creativity. Sculptures, textiles and paintings promote a deep appreciation for the cultures, religions and art historical styles of a vast area that extends from modern India, Bangladesh and Pakistan to the Himalayas and west to the Islamic world.

Massive 15th–16th century teak brackets and lintels mark the entrance to the gallery. Inside, powerful sculptures, sumptuous textiles and intricate paintings introduce the main faiths of India – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam and Christianity. Dynamic images of gods, goddesses and saints in a variety of art historical styles illuminate the Hindu pantheon, as well as ritual, festivals, symbolism, mythology and epic stories. Prominent among these are remarkable Chola-period sculptures, and large vibrant paintings [pichhavai] celebrating the popular blue god Krishna. The emergence and importance of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent is illustrated through early images of the Buddha in human and symbolic form, as well as bodhisattva saviour figures, including those from Gandhara which show distinct Hellenistic influence. Jainism is represented through serene stone images and distinctive manuscript paintings of Jinas (enlightened Jain beings). Ornamental architectural elements from Mughal India include a grand 17th-century marble arcade and an intricate sandstone screen from Emperor Shah Jahan’s reign [1628–58]. An ivory image of Christ crucified from Goa illustrates another, often overlooked, aspect of Indian art.

Other highlights include textiles from the significant national collection of Indian mordant dyed cottons and silk patolas made for international trade. Some examples date from as early as the 15th century. A selection of Indian miniatures introduces a range of themes, from sacred diagrams to images of court ceremony.