Friday, 19 October 2018

THE INDIAN SAN MARCO - 3

The cave I myself like least is Number Two. Here we have side-chapels containing statues of kings and queens or it may be pious patrons of less exalted rank, in one case with a child. The painting also in this cave has in some cases deteriorated in quality, although some great master-pieces are to be found here. There are parts where we can only think that a master has painted the principal figure and left the background or the retinue to be done by pupils or subordinates; and in some places we find fore shadowings of faults that were afterwards amongst the peasant painters to be carried for. there is an air of worldliness in placing the great of the earth almost in a line wiht the Master himself, thought this must have been done long before the paintings were put on the walls, and the fact that some of these are also wanting in severity and style is a mere accident. There is another cave at the other end of the line where we find the same order of paintings as here. I think it must be Twenty-one. Indeed throughout the series from Nineteen to Twenty-six, any painting that remains is very inferior to that in Caves One to Seventeen. The subjects are full of life and energy. The fault is only that there is not the same learnedness and grandeur of treatment as in the best works of the Ajanta masters. Nowhere in the world could more beautiful painting be found than in the king listening to the golden goose in Cave Seventeen, or than the Masque of Spring - which I should have liked to interpret as the entrance of Queen Maya into the Garden of Lumbini - on the top of a pilaster in the same cave. According to the distinguished critic who has just been at work upon them, these pictures have many of the characteristics that appear almost a thousand years later in the best works of the great Italian masters. This is seen not only in genera effects, but also in many of the details in method. The painters knew, for instance, how to graduate the outline so as to vary the intensity of its expression. And the same authority says that the anatomical knowledge shown in the modelling of limb and flesh is almost unapproachable. All this implies not only the advanced contemporary development of painting, but also the highest degree of concentration and respect for the work on the part of the worker. It is this quality which seems somewhat to have lost its intensity in certain instances in Cave two.

My own favourite amongst the caves in Four. But it is unfinished, and appears never to have been painted inside. Its proportions are wonderful-wide, lofty, vast. "This might have been our West minister Abbey!" sighed in an Indian fellow-guest, as we entered it for the first time. And the words exactly express it. It might have been India's West minister Abbey.

But as they stand, it is Cave one that contains the masterpiece. Here on the central shrine is a great picture, of which the lines and tints are grown now dim but remain still delicate. A man-young, and of heroic size-stands gazing, a lotus in his hand, at the world before him. He is looking down and out into the Vihara. About him and on the road behind him stand figures of ordinary size. And in the air are mythical beings, Kinnaras and others, crowding to watch. this fact marks the central personage as Buddha. But the ornaments that he wears as well as his tall crown show that we have here Buddha the price, not Buddha the ascetic. A wondrous compassion pervades his face and bearing, and o his left-that is, to the spectator's right-stands a woman, curving slightly the opposite way, but seeming in every line to echo gently the feeling that he more commonly expresses. This picture is perhaps the greatest imaginative presentment of Buddha that the world ever saw. Such a conception could hardly occur twice. Nor is it easy to doubt, with the gate behind him and the waving palms of a royal garden all about him, that it is Buddha in that hour when the thought of the great abandonment first comes to him, Buddha on the threshold of renunciation, suddenly realising and pondering on the terrible futility of the life of man. His wife awaits him, gently, lovingly, yet with a sympathy, a heroic potentiality that is still deeper than all her longing sweetness. Yashodara had a place, it seems, in the dreams of the monk-painters of Ajanta, and it was the place of one who could cling in the hour of tenderness, and as easily stand alone and inspire the farewell of a higher call. It was the place of one who was true and faithful to the greatness of her husband, not merely to his daily needs. It was the place of one who attained as a wife, because she was already great as a woman. These were the forms that looked down upon the noble Mahratta and Rajput youth of the kingdom of the Chalukyas in their proudest days. Students trained here may have been amongst those who officered the constant wars of their sovereigns against the Pallavas of Conjeeveram, and repelled the invasions that began to fall upon India by the west coast from the late seventh century onwards. In their country homes in the rich Indian land, or round the bivouac fires on the field of battle in the after-years, they would turn in their thoughts to these faces, speaking of a nobility and pity that stand alone in human history. A man is what his dreams make him. Can we wonder that that age was great in India whose dreams were even such as these?


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