Center for the Arts Explores Traditional Indian Art

By Deirdre Sackett

This Friday, Feb 22, Christian A. Johnson Professor of History of Art Cynthia Packert will lead a discussion about a new painting that will soon be hanging in the College’s Museum of Art. The College recently obtained the painting, “Illustration from the Ramayana,” which depicts an epic event in Hindu lore. It was purchased with funds provided by the Robert P. and Barbara P. Youngman Acquisition Fund for Asian Art. The discussion is part of the “Off the Wall: Informal Discussions About Art” series.

The Ramayana , or “Story of Rama,” is one of India’s most ancient and revered epics. It is an adventure story centered on Rama, an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, and was written in Sanskrit around 500 BCE by the poet Valmiki. Rama was the rightful heir to the throne of the kingdom Ayodhya, and was forced into exile by his evil step-mother. Yet he remained obedient to her, and set off into the wilderness with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana. Sita is captured by a demon named Ravana, and a monkey named Hanuman teams up with Rama to rescue her. Rama returns to Ayodhya and is crowned king.

The painting illustrates the moment where Rama and Lakshmana, accompanied by an army of Hanuman’s monkeys, begin their journey to rescue Sita. It is a climactic image, with various animals preparing for battle as Rama rides on Hanuman’s back. Gold accents highlight royal animals and the halos behind Rama and Lakshmana.

“Illustration from the Ramayana” is a detached image from an 18th century manuscript. Such a manuscript would probably have been commissioned by one of the aristocratic families of the Rajput ruling class, who ruled over much of northwestern India.

The piece is an anticipated addition to the art Museum’s collection, as it complements another Ramayana painting in its collection. In the painting already owned by the College, Rama, Lakshmana and Sita are just beginning their exile into the forest.

The new addition will add another chapter to the story by showing the preparation for the battle for Sita’s freedom.

The “Off the Wall” discussion will start in the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts, Room 125 on Feb. 22 at 12:15 p.m., and then will proceed to the Museum of Art. Lunch will be provided. The event is free to College ID cardholders, and community donations are welcomed.

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