The collection consists of two stone and metal sculptures from between the 9th and 11th centuries, and seven paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Taking on a new niche in her studies, Dhingra — whose dissertation specializes in medieval Buddhist sculpture — researched the individual objects, grouping them in ways that took into account their theme and chronology. Earlier this year, she set out in the museum’s study room, closely examining the paintings and discovering the most minute details, from individual brushstrokes to small inscriptions describing the patron or subjects depicted. It’s a unique experience, which allowed Dhingra to “trace the hand of an artist or the eye of the patron who coveted the object,” she says.
Behind the scenes, Dhingra worked closely with an art handler, who moved and rotated the objects, showed how they’ve been cast, and helped determine if they’d been inscribed. These objects, now so far out of their time and context, presented an exciting challenge to Dhingra. “This is what we do as art historians — we look closely at these objects and gather exciting clues about the past,” she says.
Getting up close with the paintings, Dhingra discovered the tiniest details that can only be seen in person. She explored “the tactility and three-dimensionality of the pearls on a nineteenth century Deccan painting, the tiny corpse earrings that are part of the jewelry worn by the terrifying Indian goddess Kali in a mid-eighteenth century Kangra painting, [and] the intricate details of an artist’s depiction of Ardhanarishvara, the composite form of Shiva and Parvati in a Bundi painting from Rajasthan.”
Through the preparation of this exhibit, Dhingra gained new knowledge that helped her make connections across periods and geographical distances in South Asia. “South Asian art is unique for its very diverse themes that relate to the religious and cultural multiplicity in India, as well as the varied outside influences that have enriched the subcontinent’s cultural production through time,” she says. “Working on this project is an exciting opportunity to continue improving my knowledge of different time periods and artistic traditions of South Asia. Most of all, [this experience] affirmed my love of art-objects.”
The Rutherford Collection is available for viewing at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College from September 12 – December 15, 2019.
The curatorial research for this project was supported by the Mittal Institute’s Arts Fund.