Faith in imagery

Updated: 19 December, 2019 10:06 IST | Prachi Sibal | Mumbai

Here's your chance to witness unseen Christian art at an Indo-Portuguese exhibition that opens at the museum

Immaculate Conception
Immaculate Conception

Of the Indo-Portuguese Christian art in possession with the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), there were as few as five pieces on display. When asked to look at the larger collection, curators Divya Pawathinal, Shannan Castelino and Siddharth Waingankar discovered what could only be called a treasure trove. The trio was able to assemble sculptures that were used in churches and homes for worship.

Made from wood and ivory, and ranging from a few inches to three feet in height, these displays date between the 16th and 18th centuries and have been secured from former Portuguese colonies — Goa, Daman and Diu as well as Mumbai and will now be part of a new exhibition titled Icons of Faith. "When Christianity was spreading during the Portuguese era, old worship images were replaced with new ones. Most of them would come from Europe. But, when the demand outweighed supply, local artists began creating their own," says Pawathinal. "These were, though inspired by original European works, more decorative than their Western counterparts," she adds.

So, a statue of Mary is placed on a decorative pedestal with floral art instead of a plank. The features, over time, turned distinctly Indian too. "They look a lot like our Indian neighbours," says Pawathinal.

Mary with child ChristMary with child Christ

On display, will be 35 such images of Indo-Portuguese art, with a European one, an ivory crucifix, to help juxtapose them into context. While images of Mary and Jesus (with several variations) are recurrent, Christian saints, especially Francis Xavier makes an appearance too. The exhibition design by Waingankar resembles that of a church, helping you imagine them in their original setting. Primarily, the curatorial process took identification and condition into account. "We had about 42 images in all and some of them, over time, had broken hands and couldn't be identified," confesses Pawathinal.

Of the images to observe, Pawathinal recommends the Immaculate Conception of Mary on the floral pedestal and one of many that recreate the events that led to the death of Jesus. "In these territories, they created images of these events that are popular narration during the Lenten period. This particular image of Jesus being flogged with his hands tied behind and a visible splatter of blood, needs to be seen," she says maintaining that one must focus on the faces in all of them.

On December 20 to January 31
At Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mahatama Gandhi Road, Fort.
Call 22844519
Cost Museum entry rates apply

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First Published: 19 December, 2019 10:00 IST

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