18 Nov “Reflections of the Sacred,” Museum of History, Nantes
by Renzo Freschi
Nantes is an important city for the historical and current relations France has with the extra-European worlds. In fact, the ships that used to travel from this port city to the Orient and the Americas made Nantes the main commercial port of France. Thanks to this welcoming tradition towards “other worlds” an inspiration began for an exhibition named “India, Reflections of the Sacred Worlds” for the Museum of History in Nantes.
The exhibit runs until April 24, 2023 and is organized in collaboration with the MUCIV (Museum of the Cultures, Rome, ex-Museum of Oriental Art). The show presents the world of the Sacred in Indian culture through a suggestive, interesting route. The three religions originating in India -Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism- are illustrated by sculptures, paintings and ritual objects coming mostly from the Roman Museum but also from private Italian collections (four of which are from my Gallery).
The large number of sculptures and paintings are not only wonderful examples of that world but also a sort of roundup of the Indian story of art. The reconstruction of Indian doorways, videos and the huge photos display a scenography which recreates the suggestion of ancient India. These pieces that evoke the research of the Sacred are also examples of the beauty following the aesthetical rules of Indian art. One of the most significant sculptures is the sandstone Buddha of the Gupta Period (5th-6th century): a gorgeous icon which succeeds in unifying the sense of the Divine and carnal sensuousness.
Another Buddhist piece is the relief describing the visit of the god Indra to the meditating Buddha: an extraordinarily rare sculpture in the Hellenistic style of Gandhara that the Greek introduced in Afghanistan and northwest India in the previous centuries C.E. that influenced Buddhist art in the whole Orient up to Japan. Among the many sculptures from Hindu art is the great sandstone stele of Vishnu from 10th-11th century, while a series of paintings and illuminated pages from 15th century illustrate the complexity of Jainist cosmology. The path of the show, divided into sections, introduces the viewer to the three religions by aid of didascalic panels which clarify their different aspects, and by some videos telling the most suggestive celebrations and rituals. It is a rich, composit exhibition, a tridimensional display of art and spirituality in India told by a text that, more than a catalogue (“Inde, reflets de mondes sacrés”), is quite a book on Indian sacred art.