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 !
A comparison of the online archive of the Norton Simon Museum led us to this exhibit
Parvati, c. 1000
India: Tamil Nadu, 975-1025
32-1/2 in. (82.6 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© 2012 The Norton Simon Foundation
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.
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.
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.