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Today the hand of a master forger provides us a vital clue - and we hope the Norton Simon Museum will try help to disclose or close this case.

As we have seen in the earlier parts - part 1 and part 2 of this series, how two of the looted Sivapuram bronzes landed in the Norton Simon Museum - one was returned after much debate and fanfare while the other still remains in the Museum. That still leaves 4 more to be traced, for the original Indian police case file lists “Thirugnanasambandar, Pillaiar and two Amman” as missing.

The case files further reveal that “The trustees of the temple wanted to repair the idols and this work was entrusted to Ramasamy Sthapathy of Kumbakonam in the year June 1954. In the year 1956 Thilakar of Kuttalam and his brother Doss induced Ramasamy Sthapathy to part with the original Natarajar and 5 other idols and to substitute the same with fake idols. “

Sadly the 1963 book by P. R. Srinivasan doesn’t carry any of the photographs of the two Amman bronzes.

However, thanks to our research we now have the French Institute in Pondicherry archive when they visited the temple on 15th June 1956 and followed up with a visit on 16th Nov 1957. The fake Somaskanda which we featured part 2 of the expose, gave us a vital clue - the master forger had definitely tried his best to mirror the original.

So we did a quick study of the other bronzes from the Sivapuram study by the IFP and landed on this Tani amman. To remind our readers - by the time the IFP landed in Sivapuram the switch was already made and they photographed only the fakes !

00461_02_Sivapuram_Taniamman

A comparison of the online archive of the Norton Simon Museum led us to this exhibit

Parvati, c. 1000
India: Tamil Nadu, 975-1025
Bronze
32-1/2 in. (82.6 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1972.10.S
© 2012 The Norton Simon Foundation

d--images-F197210S

It is important to see the year of purchase - 1972, is the same year the Nataraja and the Somaskanda came to the Museum.

A side by side comparison reveals the handiwork of the faker - the overall resemblance is there for anyone to see.

compare1

The thief maybe in his overconfidence did not go into the minutest of details - if you know how a bronze is cast, you will understand why - its almost impossible to make a perfect copy - especially in the ornamentation and more so to get the actual weathering patterns.

compare2
compare3

We agree that this is not conclusive proof but given that the Nataraja and the Somaskanda have set a irrefutable pattern - it is now upto the Museum to come clear on this.

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70 years is a long time ago ! But if you consider the gravity of the offense - a theft that shook the art world and the longevity of the very artifact - a creation that has stood for a 1000 years, then nothing is late to be time bared. Part 1 of this expose detailed how the Sivapuram Somaskanda was looted and is currently in the Norton Simon Museum. Today we provide a startling expose - the very expert who was responsible for making the world aware of the crime - he who visited the Sivapuram temple and said in no uncertain terms that what was being worshipped was a fake - and whose revelations led to the protracted battle and the eventual return of the Sivapuram Nataraja, was aware of much more. Infact he knew about the Sivapuram Somaskanda !!

It is important to reemphasize that the reference in Douglas Barrett’s book of 1965 Early Cola Bronzes is what is considered to be the trigger point of this entire theft coming to light.

barret_nat

We present today an Article in Marg Vol 48. No.4 June 1997 - EARLY CHOLA BRONZES IN THE NORTON SIMON MUSEUM – Douglas Barrett.

Marg June 1997

It is interesting to read the General Editor’s Note: “ The late Douglas Barrett wrote this article for the late Norton Simon soon after his visit to the museum in Pasadena, California, in 1978. However, the article was never published. Marg is pleased to publish it now through the generosity of the Norton Simon Museum and Mrs. Mary Barrett. Mr. Barrett was an authority on Cola Bronzes and we feel that his comments on the selected masterpieces will be much appreciated by Indian Art historians. One of the Bronzes ( figure 9) is no longer in the collection and now belongs to a European Collector. Some faithful readers of Marg may recognize a few of the others as they were published in the fifties in the magazines. “

Marg editors note

The detailed article is attached at the end of this post - however, what is pertinent to read is this paragraph in the article page 85 Marg exhibit “ Hence, the importance of the remarkable Somaskanda in the Museum ( figures 3 and 4). The Somaskanda, together with a standing Ganesa and the famous Nataraja , formed part of a hoard discovered at Sivapuram ( Tanjavur district). It was published in its uncleaned state by P. R. Srinivasan and with the Ganesa and Nataraja, dated to the middle of tenth century AD.”

Marg4-proof

We now have more on this case - the French Institute in Pondicherry visited the temple on 15th June 1956 and followed up with a visit on 16th Nov 1957. Sadly, what they did not realise was the fact that they had photographed the fakes. Till date these images have never been published and today we are doing so for the first time.

This is what Douglas Barret saw when he went to Sivapuram in 1965.

00026_02_Sivapuram_Nataraja
00461_03_Sivapuram_Somaskanda

These were the bronzes faked by the stapathy in june 1954, which the expert in Douglas Barret immediately recognised since he had the book by Sri. P.R. Srinivasan with the original photographs of the Nataraja and Somaskanda

PR. Srinivasan Plate LVII
PR. Srinivasan plate LVI

It looks like the Stapathy went to great extents to copy of the Nataraja ( the clues are the lack of weathering on the flames of the prabha, the missing petals of the lotus base on the last pedestal amongst a few), but for the Somaskanda he has thrown caution to the wind - is a very poor replica. Maybe he gambled that not many would have concentrated on the rest of the bronzes !!

One look at the bronzes side by side shows the fake

00461_03_Sivapuram_Somaskanda
IMG-20120723-00512

But he did try and mimic the overall styling and facial features. Which leads us to a more damning expose ….to come up shortly….

But some uncomfortable questions first - the out of court settlement between the Norton Simon Museum and the Indian Government was signed in 1976. The Nataraja stayed in the US for a period of 10 years before being returned to India. The case was closed in India stating “All accused arrested and convicted. There is no information about the remaining idols “. This monograph was surely with the Museum in 1978 during the tenure of the agreement !!

Links to the entire Marg article

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