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Posts Tagged ‘Natarajar’

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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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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The Art world is all excited about the outcome of the trail. But there are some interesting questions that keep coming up. We look at one such ” uncomfortable question” today.

We have seen earlier the details of Sripuranthan Nataraja and Sivagami.

It is pertinent here to point out that the actual theft happened at the Sripuranthan temple - the bronzes from Suthamalli temple were brought to Sripuranthan for safe keeping !!

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nataraja and sivakamasundari

Thanks to the works of Chasing Aphrodite we now know that the robbers took pictures of the Nataraja immediately after the theft when it was in a ” safe” house in Tamil Nadu before it was shipped out.

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We also have updated photos of the Nataraja currently on display at the NGA

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Even to a lay man the question will come up - how did the Nataraja change color. The greenish color is due to oxidation - and in bronzes it is called Patina. It is something that supposedly gives bronzes the antique look and is said to be a aesthetically pleasing and hence preferable condition. The Patina also prevents further corrosion of the bronze if properly formed aka done. Now naturally formed Patina takes years to happen and usually found in bronzes which have been buried underground and will never be seen in Temple bronzes which have been subjected to continuous worship with daily ablutions. Now, some ” experts” may argue that these temples were in ruined condition and might not have taken care of their bronzes.

This is where another crucial piece of evidence turns up. His consort.

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These photos are from Art of Past 2008 Catalog - the same year the NGA acquired the Nataraja. So its clear that the Nataraja would have been the same bronze color without patina.

So how did the Nataraja change color - attain Patina - yes, Patina can be artificially added thanks to today’s technology. There are chemical and physical means to impart which color you want and you practically order it when you want to commission a new bronze - green, black or Gold !!

The next question is - is there a difference in the chemical composition of a natural patina compared to one that is artificially applied. The answer is Yes and under a microscope its easy to spot the difference. In this case being a multi million dollar purchase must have been one of the first tests done by the gallery atleast to ensure they are buying a 1000 year old artifact and not a recently cast bronze.

Now the quality of this execution is important as a amateur working on such a ” priceless” piece might cause irreparable damage - in the past ( by that we mean in the case of the Pathur and the Sivapuram Nataraja ) the bronzes are sent to a country where there are expert conservators to do this job - UK !!

Now to read more into this, take a look at the case papers. Subhash Chandra Kapoor vs Inspector Of Police on 3 April, 2012


The said idols were presented before the Sea Customs Authority, Chennai so as to export it to xxxxxxxx Gallery and was cleared by customs on 6.3.2008 and were exported by ship to Hong Kong. They were further redirected to one xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Company at U.K. by direction from the petitioner. “

The same company is named in this newspaper report

Maybe the Nataraja changed color in UK??

The other question is why was the Patina applied only for the Nataraja and not to his consort? Was it customized?

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