Imagine posing as a model for this dancing female figure. You'll soon realize that this striking pose is anatomically impossible. Yet the sculptor has captured the essence of continuous, whirling motion.
This 12th-century figure ornamented a north Indian Hindu temple, in what's now Uttar Pradesh. She represents one of many celestial or semidivine attendants, dancing reverently for the main deity of the temple. Some temples kept troops of real women who danced for the god to please him.
You can see a stylistic shift away from the plain surfaces of the Gupta era. The eye-catching jewelry and costume emphasize surface ornament-especially as a contrast to the smooth, abundant flesh. The exaggerated pose focuses attention on the figure's lively contours. The spikes on the crown, the swaying necklace, and tassels around the waist amplify the impression of rhythmic, dancing movement, and lend verisimilitude to the abstract body.
#7970: Dancing Celestial
#122: The Director's Tour, Second Floor: Dancing Celestial
The work was acquired by Florence and Herbert Irving in two parts, bust and lower torso, and joined by MMA in 1992. Bust: [Th. Hustinx, The Hague, until 1986, sold to the Irvings]; Florence and Herbert Irving, New York (1986–2015, on loan to MMA 1992–2015; donated to MMA); Lower torso: [Art of the Past, Inc., New York, until 1992, sold to the Irvings]; Florence and Herbert Irving, New York (1992–2015, on loan to MMA 1992–2015; donated to MMA)
Exhibition history: The work has been on loan to and on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art since 1993.
Publication Information: Kossak, Steven M. and Martin Lerner, "The Arts of South and Southeast Asia." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 51 (Spring 1994), pp. 49–51, fig. 44, cover image; Kossak, Steven M. "The Arts of South and Southeast Asia: New Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum." Minerva 5, no. 4: pp. 10, fig. 4; Hearn, Maxwell K. "Introduction: The Florence and Herbert Irving Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Arts of Asia, November-December 2015: pp. 67–75, fig. 10.