Pair of Shaiva Book Covers

11th century
Nepal
Polychrome wood
Each 58.5 cm. by 6.5 cm - 23 by 2 ½ in

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The fine quality of these early book coversis evident in the beautifully delineated figures that populate theirsurfaces. Richly colored, the toppanel depicts a prominent central Shivalinga atop a blossoming lotus flower,flanked by Brahma and Vishnu. Oneither side, four male deities face inward, each bestowing floral offeringsupon a smaller Shivalinga placed in front of him. Wearing diaphanous dhotis,each of which is made from a uniquely patterned textile, translucent scarvesand delicate jewelry, the divinities gaze downward in reverence. Although the bottom panel is more wornthan the top, a central image of Shiva and Parvati seated on a throne above acharming Nandi and a pair of worshippers is discernible. On either side of the couple, fourenthroned deities face inward, each gazing down at his own following ofworshippers who kneel at his feet. In both, the red background against which the divinities sit is borderedat top by a series of decorative blue curtains and is lit by a variety ofchandeliers and lamps, suggestive of an interior scene.

Given their subject-matter, these bookcovers at one time would have protected an unknown palm leaf text sacred to theShaiva religion. Although Buddhistmanuscript covers were more prevalent than Hindu in Nepal, examples such as thepresent were also painted there, often by the same artists. Just as painting styles evolved, so didthe style of manuscript cover illustrations. Dating from the eleventh century, the period of the firstNepali manuscript covers, the present example exhibits incredibly fine detailsand simple yet elegant figural representations. These same features are evident in a Hindu book cover in thecollection of the University Library in Cambridge that dates from the eleventhcentury,[1]as well as in another twelfth century set in the Pritzker Collection.[2]

Notes:

[1] See Pal (1978), fig. 16.

[2] See Pal (2003), no. 24.