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The Image of Christ in Indian Art
Alphonso Doss, India

From time immemorial religion has played an important part in all our lives making an impact for the further generations. Art has been no different as an artist's impression always leaves an indelible mark, creating a vision for the future.

Christ Carrying the Cross, by S. Dhanapal

The image of Christ has been a fascinating experience for artists all over the world. Historians believe that his enemies must have destroyed the earliest examples of Christ's image in very early period of history. The only remains that have been recorded are from the Early Christian period of burial chambers in Rome 300 AD onwards, where the Christian monks painted murals inside the monasteries and catacombs with murals and mosaic depicting the life of Jesus as a miracle maker and redeemer.

Among various schools which flourished in Europe, the most powerful was the Renaissance and Borouque when artists were engaged by the church to interpret the Bible in visual media. The artists were given freedom to create Christian subjects from the Old and New Testaments commissioned by the Pope and other religious leaders. The artistic personality and dramatic life of Jesus has been a great influence on the artists. Davinci, El Greco, Titian, Rembrandt and Rubens have tried to capture the image as per the individual approach and style as the world has ever known.

There was not a single artist in the history of Religious art who has not been influenced by the face of Jesus. His life and message not only influenced the western world but also spread to Eastern countries much before the Dutch and Portughese missionaries build the churches in India 1500 AD. The Nestorian cross was installed in the very early period and also Marthoma Syrian and Armenians also build Churches in the West Coast of the Indian subcontinent.

The European architectural design became very popular with the emergence of colonial rule in India introducing Portughese, Gothic and Romenesque style transformed the new application in Church building. Artists and architects from Europe were brought to India to attend the works commissioned by the missionaries which has influenced Indian artists.

Christ Carrying the Cross, by P.V. Janakiram

Madras school of arts was started in 1850 under British administration, trained Indian artists and craftsmen to produce decorative arts both in European and Indian style to suit the growing artistic needs of the time. Madras school of arts also produced talented artists in the later period under the leadership of a well known painter and sculptor Dr. Devi Prasad Roy Choudhury who became the Principal of Madras school of Arts in 1927. Mr. K.C. S. Panicker succeeded as principal created the image of Christ in both oil and painted water colour while Mr. S. Dhanapal and Mr. P.V. Janakiram made bronze and metal sculptures depicting the image of Jesus in 1962 - 65. "Christ carrying the cross" was a popular composition done by S. Dhanapal in Bronze which was selected for a National Academy award in 1962. The other sculpture named "Christ carrying the cross" is a group sculpture, in which Christ carrying the cross with his followers depict and express grief and sorrow. In both these sculptures one can see the face and the figuration following Indian contemporary style of expression. The eyes and elongated face of Christ convey a deep sense pf compassion and tolerance which are the characteristic portrayal of Christ. 72-year-old artist Mr. S. Dhanapal expired March 2000 after leaving his other creative works in Madras.

Internationally reputed sculptor P.V. Janakiram, aged 72 disciple of K.C.S. Panicker and S. Dhanapal has also been influenced by the suffering of Jesus Christ. He made several figures of Christ, Madonna, Crucifixion conveying the Christian spirit in his work. The most striking one is the sculpture showing Christ stretching his hands expressing love, unity done in copper sheet metal. Welding is employed to fix the copper rod to suggest hair and beard. The whole sculpture is oxidized except the centre area where the brass sheet is welded in the front portion on which decorative elements are found with geometric pattern to beautify the sculpture. The original is in the collection of the museum of contemporary arts in Madras college of Arts, Madras. Janakiram passed away in 1995 in Madras.

These are only a few of the many who have expressed their love and devotion for the subject that has effused so much admiration and love through the ages.


© ACAA - Asian Christian Art Association