Talk | Indian, Ptolemaic and Hellenistic Terracottas: Exploring Multi-/Trans-culturalism in Antiquity

Date: 20 January 2012, Thursday 
Venue: NUS Museum

Admission free. To register email or call 6516 8817 / 8429

Whereas the Hellenistic impact on the art of Gandhara is well-known to scholars, this lecture delves into the importance of a shared trans-cultural visual culture between Egyptian (Ptolemaic and Roman), Hellenistic (Seleucid) and Indian (post-Mauryan) antiquities, by focussing on the terracottas and ivories of Bengal, the Deccan and even sites in Northern India. Indian terracottas reveal more than a passing resemblance with contemporaneous Egyptian and Hellenistic terracottas, regions which traded with each other extensively, both via land (and its riverine routes) and sea. Not only is there a predilection for using the technique of moulding and double-moulding, but looked at more widely we see them governed by similar iconographic concerns. Further, we are often equally at a loss to accurately interpret the iconography of the objects in Indian, Mediterranean or Egyptian terracottas; related as they are, not to the major public monuments and main icons,  but to domestic worlds, grave goods, ex-votos, common beliefs in everyday rituals and festivals, many related to fertility and childbirth.

Artistically, terracotta is the medium where many ideas were first experimented upon before they were committed to stone. At the same time, many terracotta artefacts were used in ephemeral rituals and then discarded; their study thus permits an insight into those aspects of religious worship little studied by art-history where the emphasis has been on grand monuments of more durable materials like stone. Inexpensive and easily replaced, terracottas are by their very nature a source for a unique telling of a more personal history, reflective of a shared trans-cultural history of religious cults as worshipped in peoples’ homes rather than what is evidenced from grand stone statuary alone.

This talk is co-organized by the Office of the Deputy President (Research and Technology), National University of Singapore and NUS Museum.

About the Speaker
Naman P. Ahuja is Associate Professor of Ancient Indian Art and Architecture at J N U, New Delhi, where his research and graduate teaching focus on Indian iconography, sculpture, temple architecture and Sultanate period painting. He has recently completed a Nehru Fellowship, under the auspices of which he authored The Making of the Modern Indian Craftsman:Devi Prasad (Routledge, 2011). He has held Fellowships, Visiting Professorships and Curatorial charges at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford,  SOAS, the British Museum  and the Kusnthistorisches Institut in Florence. He has curated several exhibitions in India and abroad on themes ranging from Ancient to Modern Art. Some of his publications include: Divine Presence, The Arts of India and the Himalayas (Five continents editions, Milan, 2003) which was translated into Catalan and Spanish, “Changing Gods, Enduring Rituals: Observations on Early Indian Religion as seen through Terracotta Imagery c. 200 BC – AD 200”  in South Asian Archaeology, Paris, 2001, and, Ramkinkar Through the Eyes of Devi Prasad (Delhi, 2007).


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