ART OF MEDIEVAL INDIA (9th to 14th centuries) – Introduction

The Vishvanatha Temple (Madhya Pradesh, India), a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, who is also known as “Vishvanatha”, meaning “Lord of the Universe”. The temple was probably completed in 999 CE or 1002 CE during the medieval period of the art of India.

The history of India took a new direction after the death of the Emperor Harsha of Kannauj in 647. This monarch had managed to rebuild the empire of the Gupta almost in its entirety and to ensure the survival of its artistic forms, literature, philosophy and science. When Harsha died, India fell back into the political fragmentation that has usually been normal over the course of its long history and that lasted until the Mongol emperors imposed their laws on most of the Indian peninsula during the XVI and XVII centuries. As a consequence, this intermediate period favored the appearance of diverse artistic styles thanks to the prosperity of the diverse and numerous kingdoms that were formed and came to enjoy political autonomy during the course of these centuries.

However, for about two centuries (from 650 to 850 approximately), the Gupta art continued to be used, especially in northern India, and it is likely that this art has also been influenced by some southern artistic styles.

A medieval (10th century, Chola dynasty) bronze sculpture of Shiva, depicted as the “Lord of the Dance” (Los Angeles County Museum of Art).

Nevertheless, it is during the IX century that the art of India can begin to be considered as “medieval”, that is, located chronologically speaking, between the Gupta period (which can be described as “classical”) and the Mongol period during which Islam and Europeans intervened in Indian history causing more spectacular than profound changes.

In the field of religious art, this period of about six centuries was one of the most fascinating in the history of India. Not only because many artists (most of them anonymous) were revealed, but especially because based on a relatively small number of architectural elements, decorative motifs and iconographic formulas, a large number of new artistic creations were produced, resulting in architectural ensembles of capital importance, both in the provinces of North and South India.

As in the past, there was certain synchronism in the artistic styles reflected more in their principles than in their forms. And it can be said that in the IX and X centuries the split between the northern and southern artistic styles had already been achieved.

An Apsara depicted here as a dancing celestial female spirit, a medieval (12th-century) sandstone statue from Uttar Pradesh, India (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).