Essays on New Art History: Vol. I Studies in Indian Sculpture: Regional Genres and Interpretations Ratan Parimoo
These essays are a culmination of zealous research, field work and post graduate teaching conducted zestfully for years by now retired professor of art history, Ratan Parimoo, who is also a distinguished practicing painter.
Having studied Stella Kramrisch and keenly analysed Ananda Coomaraswamy, Parimoo has also kept abreast with the current trends in international Art History Kramrisch’s thinking was formulated under the influence of the Vienna school of Art History combined with her own deep insight of form analyses and symbolic significance. Parimoo perceives the development of form and style in a fresh manner combining his own understanding of the original writings of art historians of style such as H. Wolfflin, A Riegl and H. Focillon along with promoters of the iconological method like E. Panofsky, E. Gombrich and Meyer Schapiro. Being of the few Indian art historians to apply the western methodologies to Indian art, he has also probed into the relevance of several overlooked Sanskrit sources in analysing traditional Indian sculpture and architecture.
In India, the art historical situation has come to a point when several regions in the count have continuously been explored and breathtakingly new material has come to light, which was not available to scholars who wrote about a half century ago. It is now possible to look with fresh eye and empirically, the problem of the classical quality, the development of sculpture and architecture during the medieval period, the notion of naturalism / realism in Indian sculpture and the least recognised contribution of regional schools.
Written with the painter’s sensitivity, these essays cover the areas of style, to some extent iconology and show possibilities of opening research in temple architecture. After having writings on Indian sculpture by Coomaraswamy, Stella Kramrisch and C. Sivaramamurti, these essays by Ratan Parimoo being released at the beginning of the new millennium, is a contribution in the direction of ‘New Art History’ and will have as much significance as Heinrich Zimmer’s classic work, the ‘Art of Indian Asia’.
About the Author:
Ratan Parimoo has been Head of the Department of Art History & Aesthetics for twenty Eve years (1966-1991) at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. He was appointed professor in 1978 and has also served as Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the same University for six years (1975-1981), having begun his teaching career in Art History & Aesthetics in 1959. Besides being a leading art historian, having been awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship (1991—1993) : he is also an eminent painter. Another significant aspect of his personality is that he is equally at home with both contemporary as well as traditional arts of India in his critical writings. As a life led as painter, art historian and art teacher, he has been interested in interdisciplinary study of the arts, which is reflected in the encyclopedic critical anthology edited by him entitled, ‘Creative Arts in Modern India’.
As a Commonwealth scholar, Professor Parimoo went to London University to study History of European Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art. He received the Rockefeller Grant to travel in the KSA, where he studied Indian Sculpture briefly under the great art historian, the late Dr. Stella Kramrisch. He was invited to participate in the twenty third World Congress of the International Society of Education through Art, held in Australia. He is the chief editor of the prestigious collections of papers read on the occasions of the seminars organised in his Department at Baroda, viz. (i) UGC workshop on History of Art, (ii) Vaishnavism in Indian Art & Culture, Ellora Caves : Sculptures & Architecture, and (iv) The Art of Ajanta : New Perspectives. His individual publications include (a) Paintings of the Three Tagores: Abanindranath, Gaganendranath and Rabindranath (b) Studies in Modern Indian Art (c) Sculptures of Sheshasayi Vishnu (d) Life of Buddha in Indian Sculpture. He has written extensively on the subject of jatakas in Buddhist art emphasising on narratology in the Indian pictorial arts. He also continues to write on modern Indian Art.
Through the last two decades when some of Ratan Parimoo’s essays began to appear in journals and felicitation volumes, few had realised the phenomenon that here was an art—historian with a difference. Now with his wide range of art historical publications as well as the series of art exhibitions of his own paintings to his credit, one begins to realise the artistic sensibility reflected in his writings on Indian art historical topics.
In a larger context, Parimoo's essays put together this volume represent the developing thinking about aspects of Indian sculpture, particularly how this rich tradition has manifested in different regions, more relevant to western and central India although his initial and abiding concerns have been methodological. Parimoo’s long years of teaching and years of headship of the Department of Art History and Aesthetics of the Baroda`s Faculty of Fine Arts, have been effectively utilized by him in spelling out his art historical interest and working them out in his class—room teaching, in his own researches and the research projects devised and guided by him.
While the art historical researches and writings on Indian art have been going on along the set lines of archaeology, iconography, and cultural data, many art historical problems are becoming clear which need to be tackled. It needs to be conceded that, the discovering of ‘new material’ has been the occasion for art historical writing which often reads like a descriptive catalogue. Equally mechanistic has been the writing based on iconographic texts. The approach in Parimoo's essays requires to be understood in contrast to these prevailing phenomena.
He has also taken a stand vis-a-vis some of the assumptions made during the early part of this century, which are an ‘a priori’ theorization about a supposedly oriental approach held to be much distinct from the European art. This includes Parimoo's handling of the notion of Graeco Roman influence on Indian art in general and Gandharan art in particular as well as the conceptualization of a philosophic aesthetic and the lopsided over emphasis on religious inspiration.
Parimoo has in some of his essays made In depth attempts to grasp the method of Stella Kramrisch. In his studies he has demonstrated how she was very distinct from Ananda Coomaraswamy and at the same time he has kept abreast with current trends, He has pinpointed how Kramrisch's thinking was formulated under the influence of the Vienna school of art history, who could with such deep insight combine form analysis with symbolic significance. Parimoo has been successful as an Indian to perceive formal stylistic developments in a fresh manner by, among others, reading the authors of style criticism in original, such as H. Wolfflin, A Riegl, Focillon and others. This is amply demonstrated in his essays on Elephanta and Ellora caves, as well as on Aihole ceilings and Khajuraho sculptures. Similarly, the content/iconological method of E. Panofsky and E. Gombrich, along with a sort of synthetic approach to form and content of Meyer Schapiro, have been studied through their authentic writings. Equipped with this discipline, Parimoo has further focused on by an internal analysis one is led to perceiving the inherent art—historical problems within each given topic, for example in his essay on Gupta classicism. The Indian Art historical situation has reached a point when several regions of the country have continuously been explored and breath-taking new material has come to light that was not available to scholars like Coomaraswamy about a half a century ago. I endorse Parimoo's view that it is now possible to look with fresh eye and in a more empirical manner at the problems of ‘classical quality’, the developments during the medieval period, the notion of naturalism/realism in Indian sculpture and the much neglected contribution of regional schools. Besides the area of style, these essays also to some extent cover iconological explorations. Parts of the chapters on Vishvarupa Vishnu images, on Hinglajgarh and Khajuraho sculptures, are perceptive exercises under this agenda. These writings are Parimoo’s contribution to ‘New Art History’ or ‘Critical Art History’, though he would prefer to characterise his approach as interpretative Art History’, which in his own way is interdisciplinary.
Despite his interest in Western art historical. methodologies and their relevance for the study of Indian Art History, Parimoo has seriously probed into the applicability of several overlooked Sanskrit sources in the analysis of traditional j Indian sculpture and architecture, within the limitations of a non-Sanskritist and a trained painter, especially in his essay on Gupta classicism and the ambitious rejoinder to Ananda Coomaraswamy. Further, his endeavour to evolve such kind of prose for the language of these essays so as to reflect the painter's sensitivity is unmistakable.
Trained in Western Art History in a prestigious British university (Courtauld Institute of Art, London University), Parimoo in his youthful enthusiasm dared to make a dent in the Indian Art Historical scene. Having initiated national seminars which he continued to convene as Honourary Secretary of the Indian Association of Art Historians during the eighties with the financial assistance from the University Grants Commission, he organized them with efficiency and clarity of goal, showing due regard for and receiving co—operation from the senior scholars. It was during this period, while observing his initiatives that we at the American Institute of Indian Studies were able to discover the common interests we shared with him and his Department, namely the furtherance of Indian Art Historical studies and assisted his colleagues and research fellows in their photo—documentation.
I am happy to write this short foreword extending my good wishes to this first volume of Parimoo's collected art historical writings which has the potential to be recognised as a landmark publication for studies in Indian Sculpture at the turn of the present millennium as have been Heinrich Zimmer's Art of Indian Asia during the fifties and C. Sivaramamurti's Nataraja in Indian Art, Thought and Literature during the seventies.
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