Inscribed Polychrome, Carved Image of Vishnu on Garuda
Northern Bali, probably Buleleng
late 19th century
Images of Vishnu riding Garuda are frequently produced today on Bali for the tourist market. But wooden images of Vishnu and Garuda that date to the nineteenth century are rare. This image has a pair – see
. Nineteenth century pairs of wooden statues are particularly rare (Reichle, 2010, p. 241)
This fine and unusual example shows Vishnu astride his vehicle (
vahana) Garuda, a half bird, half man creature. Both are decorated with green, red, grey, orange, yellow and cream polychrome with gold leaf highlights.
Garuda has a large beak, powerful legs that are splayed, and a prominent pair of open wings. Vishnu sits about his shoulders and leans forward, with his legs dangling down Garuda’s chest, and Garuda grips both of Shiva’s feet in his hands to steady him.
Both Garuda and Vishnu wear crowns and jewellery . Vishnu has a naturalistically-coloured cream-brown face and fine facial features.
Vishnu was linked with notions of kingship, and so Bali’s early courts had a strong attachment to the imagery of Vishnu, his avatars Rama and Krishna, and to his wife Dewi Sri, who served as the patron goddess of rice and agriculture.
The base is decorated with polychrome rainbow striping. The front edge of the base is inscribed in black ink or paint with two lines of Balinese script.
What were such images used for in the nineteenth century? Their precise function is not known. Most wooden statues were used as architectural elements but that is not the case with this example, which is too fine, and clearly was designed as a stand-alone piece. Reichle (2010, p. 241) comments that such images were likely designed as decorative items to adorn royal palaces.
The image is detailed and well carved. It has a fine patina; its significant age is obvious. The patina is not the result of weathering but more the simple passage of time. In any event, this and its partner statue, were sourced from the UK and both appear to have been in the UK for many years. There is some age-related cracking to the base. The item however is in a robust, stable condition.
The item was acquired in the UK and most probably was part of an old collection. It appears to have been in the UK for many decades.
UK art market.
Bruce Carpenter, Bali, pers. comm.
Ramseyer, U., The Art and Culture of Bali, Oxford University Press, 1977.
Reichle, N. (ed.),
Bali: Art, Ritual & Performance, Asian Art Museum, 2010.
Inventory no.: 2015
Scroll down for more images.