Fidelis Antiqua: the realistic sculptures of the Asian gallery

- through Francois Leclercq

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Image courtesy of Raoul Saigal

Indian sculptures from ancient times, classical antiquity and the medieval period can be found all over the world in the most important and respected museums. The reproduction of these sculptures has traditionally been relegated to the mass production of souvenirs or commemorative and decorative pieces. Based in New Delhi, Asians Gallery studio has an artistic mission to maintain fidelity to the aesthetics of Gandhara, Pala, Gupta and other styles. Raoul Saigal is one of the co-founders of Asiatique Gallery, and he spoke with BDG about the uniqueness of his sculptural vocation.

BDG: How did you develop a passion for Buddhist sculpture? And how faithful reproduction of art became your main specialty?

Raoul Saigal: My journey in Asian and Buddhist art began with my feeling of being born in India and growing up in Hong Kong for the first eight years of my life. Although my parents are both Indian, I grew up in this beautiful city in the early 1980s. My appreciation for Buddhist and Asian arts was probably developed by our own apartment where my mother, being an art teacher, had our whole house decorated with all kinds of Buddhist carvings and paintings. Besides being surrounded by Southeast Asian art, our home also had lots of Hindu statues in our prayer room. It was an eclectic mix of the two Asian religions at a very impressionable young age that resulted in my fascination and fondness for Buddhist sculptures.

We returned to India in 1989. New Delhi was a big change for me, both culturally and socially. I missed Hong Kong terribly. I found solace in the Asian Buddhist artwork my mother had brought back from Hong Kong – like now in our new home in New Delhi, her collection of Indian Hindu art has grown considerably. I also saw local artisans on the roads of New Delhi making small sculptures of Hindu deities as well as the iconic Buddha Shakyamuni seated in his touching pose and was fascinated by how they could do both. I fell in love watching the intricate carvings of these little roadside creations come to life with a simple block of stone and a chisel and felt that these people were true artists.

Image courtesy of Raoul Saigal

I left to pursue a master's degree in business economics in the United States. Although I worked on Wall Street, I remember visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) in New York one weekend and being blown away by the Gandharan sculptures on display! I couldn't believe that the subcontinent had given birth to this incredible fusion style of Greco-Buddhist artwork of such magnitude. The proportions of the sculptures and the Hellenistic influences mixed with Asian and Persian styles proved to be captivating and alluring. The elegant postures and the realism of the draperies were also so mesmerizing to see up close. It was truly love at first sight. I also saw other ancient Indian works on display, including Pala and Gupta period pieces, and the whole range and diversity of this art was breathtaking.

When I searched for more Gandhara images, I found a few stores in New York and the United States that actually sold authentic Gandhara carvings and other Indian antiques. But the prices were astronomical. When I visited my parents that summer in India, our car passed some of these roadside carvings of more simplistic Buddhist artwork.

It got me thinking: what if these same talented artists, with a little more financial incentive and resources, could create something similar to the old style of Indian art such as Gandharan, Pala, Gupta, etc. . ?

It really is the seed that got me thinking about making this ancient and beautiful, but dying art form more affordable and more celebrated around the world by producing it at a fraction of the cost without compromising on beauty and style that made it unique.

Padmapani, British Museum. Museum No. 1950,0726.1. At

BDG: What are some of your favorite examples of Gandharan, Pala and Gupta sculptures?

RS: I think the Bodhisattva Padmapani seated in the British Museum is a truly breathtaking work. The tall and imposing Maitreya Bodhisattva at the Met is also a very imposing and exquisite work that made a deep impression on me.

As for the pieces from the Pala period – again, there are so many pieces to choose from and see in museums, especially in the National Museum of New Delhi itself – I think mention should be made of the Pala sculpture recently sold at auction, which breaks all records and has broken 900 years. of the Buddhist deity Lokantha which hit the headlines last month, selling at Christie's for $25 million! It looks like an absolutely colossal work almost 152 centimeters high and the fact that it hasn't been seen publicly at all for almost half a century makes it a real enigma!

Works from the Gupta period have their own sandstone charm, but I think my favorite and the one that left a huge impact on me would be the standing giant Buddha offering his protection it's at the Met.

Buddha Offering Protection, The Met. Membership number 69.222. At

BDG: Tell us about your studio team.

RS: 'Team Buddha' consists of my partner Rajesh Kumar, myself and our team of artisans, who have been with us for over a decade.

Rajesh comes from a long line of master artists. These craftsmen were trained in the ancient traditions true to the Gandharian, Pala and Gupta periods of art. The artisans and artisans of our workshop carry with them the heritage, knowledge and ancient techniques and skills of their ancestors that date back centuries.

These unequaled and incomparable sculptures that celebrate the lost art of ancient India cannot be found anywhere else in the world. We pride ourselves on being able to meticulously reproduce works of lost ages and eras with almost exactly the same characteristics, in some cases even adding to their ancient beauty. Our team spends months designing these action figure replicas, completely handmade without machines. These techniques come from some of the oldest civilizations in the world. Be it the Greco-Roman influence of the Gandharian period – dating from the XNUMXnd to XNUMXth centuries – or the works of the Gupta period which exemplified a golden age for Indian art.

Image courtesy of Raoul Saigal

From the erotic and sensual period of Khajuraho to the most popular and sought after period of Pala sculptures from the XNUMXth to XNUMXth centuries, our sculptures are sought after worldwide by leading galleries and showrooms as a rare example of an ancient art form.

We value our carvings at a fraction of the price of the original works, despite the fact that we carve in the same ancient stone with the same techniques from over 2 years ago. Everyone should be lucky enough to own a piece of ancient history.

BDG: Does your studio contribute to making Buddhist sculpture known in India?

RS: Yes, one of the main goals of our business is to bring this amazing ancient art in its various forms to a global audience outside of India. We want to make examples of this ancient art form affordable to more people without compromising quality or level of detail, and sticking to the use of hand-held tools only.

BDG: Do you collaborate with researchers or academics when updating your catalog of sculptural works?

RS: No, not yet. But we would cherish the opportunity to work with BDG and benefit from your expertise in this fascinating field of art!

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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