The Analysis of Jina Images [Part 2]

Published: 01.02.2012

The essay was published in Berliner Indologische Studien No. 2. 1986, pp. 133-174.

§ 3. Problems of the matrix (“style“ and “śilpaśāstra“)

For simplicity's sake, we presented the argument of § 1 in a somewhat abstract manner, i.e. without reference to possible counter positions. We now have to add that the argument of § 1 is largely connected with issues surrounding the concept of matrix. The traditional matrix is partly semantic (identity) and partly style-historical (period-province-patronage, development). This concept of matrix has its limitations. In the case of the semantic aspect of a large number of works of art, these limitations can be studied through a critical comparison of works of art with the śilpaśāstras (and with due consideration of the hermeneutic issue), whereas problems of the style-historical dimension are largely connected with what we call the workshop issue. Some observations on this point will be made in the present section. We do, however, not propose to study the matrix problem on the one hand (semantic and style-historical sides) and the proposals of § 1 on the other as a systematic whole.

There already exists a certain tradition of criticizing the concept of style. We principally find two lines of criticism. In the first case, emphasis is placed on the syncretistic aspect of many pieces of art (different prototypes, different artists engaged in the execution), [1] and this can also, perhaps more appropriately, be described as a criticism of the unity of a work of art. In the second instance, emphasis is put on the coexistence of different stylistic tendencies (or idioms or workshops) at one and the same place, and at one and the same time. [2] “Stylistic pluralism“ would be a suitable lable for such a state of affairs, and the pluralistic element is then in conflict with any uninhibited employment of two terms, viz. style and development.

There is, however, also a way of arguing which rather confirms our usual notions of style and stylistic development and of the unity of the piece of art. Here, differences in the style and standard of one and the same work of art are attributed to the cooperation of the master with his apprentice. Again, stylistic pluralism will be explained in terms of quality, or time-relations, i.e. coexistence of outdated forms, current forms, and new forms. Pluralism can also be explained by the mobility of both artists and works of art. To be sure all these arguments are plausible and appropriate in a majority of cases, but they often do betray a tendency to reduce pluralism and lack of unity to a mere anomaly or accident.

Nobody will deny that the more conservative view of style and development, and of the unity of the work of art, remains unchallenged in the majority of cases. However, we have to be cautious both in dating a work of art on stylistic and palaeographic grounds as well as in using history as a matrix for iconography, “matrix“ understood as a grid. In other words, we cannot classify Jina iconography or Jaina iconography in general with the help of such simple categories as Gupta or post-Gupta, Gurjara Pratihāra or Chandella. We require various strategies of ordering or arranging the material instead of merely using a single matrix.

Criticism of the aforementioned historical matrix is not a criticism of the historical method or of the historical approach as such. But there is a regressus from hierarchically larger units like dynasties and provinces, which are more or less identifiable entities, to smaller units like workshops and subregional idioms which, retrospectively, are largely imperceptible. Doubts are raised by us not against the historical method as such but against its universal applicability to all historical contexts. The relevant catchword is “workshop“ although we have used the word “style“ in the title of the present section which, in this specific context, is something like an antonym of “workshop“.

The śilpaśāstras affect the old matrix insofar as it is not possible to classify the Jina images simply according to śilpaśāstra criteria. In Jaina art, the 24 Jinas with their 24 cihnas and 24 yakṣas and 24 yakṣīs are not very prominent. This is certainly not a purely hermeneutics issue, but the Wort-Bild problem (literature and art, more particularly śilpaśāstra and art) cannot be separated from hermeneutic analysis (compare IJI § 9). So it was not unreasonable to treat hermeneutics in the second section of our essay. The first section in its turn was not only a suitable introduction to the entire essay but it already indicated the conceptual apparatus that would become necessary on account of the matrix problem as such.


§ 4. Changing combinations and the “tetrad“

In JID, we have described the Jina images within the framework of one and the same classification in two different ways. In the first case , we were mainly concerned with the explanation and justification of the proposed system of classification, and found that this could not be separated from the description of the images themselves, so that the bulk of the description needed to be also incorporated into this approach (the greater part of JID Pt. II). As a supplement we added to this a systematic (or rather pseudo-systematic) description of the iconography of the relevant units of our classification (e.g. compare “The Iconography of the Drum-Style“: JID §§ 124-138A; further references on pp. IX ff.).

We now propose a procedure in which we distinguish clearly between image-description on the one hand and systematic statistics (i.e. motif-statistics) on the other. The first approach is connected with classification, but it should include a more exhaustive description of the material. It should in fact operate on a fairly low level: e.g. units of 10-20 images, units of 5-10 images, and units consisting of still less images. Such divisions may be designated as the “real units“. This modified strategy, not yet used in JID, will be employed in future studies. The second approach which is the purpose of the present essay is concerned with statistics, to be more precise, with concrete statistics. We do not simply enumerate hand-attributes and vāhanas, as done by the śilpaśāstras, but rather prepare a detailed guide to all the images that form a corpus (30-40 up to 80-100 images). This guide will give information about all those features that are normally classified as iconographic rather than stylistic. The statistic approach will be concrete, partly because it takes into consideration many different features, and partly because it also considers to some extent the internal organization of the material, i.e. the relations among the images, concomitance of different features etc. All non-iconographic features such as style, material, and inscriptions will of course be reserved for the “image-description“. In this respect no modification of the relevant approach in JID would become necessary.

We cannot give a detailed justification of the proposed twofold approach (forming the first two elements of the tetrad). Nor can we say where exactly it is necessary in Indian art and where it is not, or where it is more useful and where less useful. However, we would like to explain one point which has already been indicated in the title of this section and which is relevant to our twofold approach, viz. the issue of changing combinations.

If we compare the central image in the composition of JID 157 with the two lateral images, then we notice inter alia that the seated image has curls, whereas the two standing images have strands. Again, the cāmara-bearers of the central Jina wear crowns whereas those of the lateral Jinas are bare-headed. If we include in our survey JID 156 and JID 158, i.e. the composition in the other great niches of Temple

No. 15, we also notice differences in the postures and hand-attributes of the cāmara-bearers. In order to understand the consequences of these differences we have to bear in mind that:

  1. the three images are closely related since they form one single composition;
  2. the differences are “iconographic“;
  3. the differences do not indicate a difference in the identity of the three Jinas (Pārśvas vs. non-Pārśvas, and so on).

Iconographic“ is here used in the specific sense of motif difference. Strands are not a different interpretation of curls but they represent something different. Such discontinuity occurs also on a lower level, i.e. in the case of different formulas for one and the same motif. Thus we observe that the cāmara-bearers of JID 157 and 158 show different postures with respect to their outer arms. This difference can be called “formulaic“. Here too, we are not concerned with transitions from one rendition to another, but with different choices. Transitions (stufenlose Übergange) are thus conspicuous by their absence or at least rare. From the common pool of motifs and formulas, the same artist selects one motif (formula) for one image and another motif (formula) for another image. It would thus be more precise to say in the case of category (ii) iconographic-cum-formulaic instead of iconographic. It is, however, important to accentuate that the artists did not hesitate to produce variety on a predominantly iconographic basis, instead of demonstrating their skill through stylistic innovation. Category (iii) shows that the changes are not due to content considerations. We may, however, add that even changes in the identity of a Jina occur so as to achieve variety (§ 20) and must therefore be distinguished from strictly theological motives.

The concept of a common pool of motifs and formulas implies both “convention“, the pool supplying prefabricated elements, and “limitation“, the number of choices being limited. To this we add that there are also special restrictions inherent in the specific canon of the Jina image: for the Jina only two postures, one standing and one seated, were admitted, there are almost always two male cāmara-bearers, and so on. Such are the general conditions under which the principle of changing combinations became effective.

Changing combinations as just described make the twofold approach not only useful or justifiable, but imperative. Iconographic variation leaves little scope for close iconographic relationship and even the scope for close stylistic similarity is reduced. It is thus necessary to consider all aspects of the images, down to the colour of the stone and to the position in an architectural scheme, in order to isolate groups of related images and to produce something like a classification. The groups thus obtained will be our “real units“. By contrast, statistics will basically remain a guide or a means of general orientation. To give a fictitious example: We cannot expect that Jinas with curls also have a feature x (e.g. a śrīvatsa-mark) whereas this same feature is always missing in the case of Jinas with strands. Concomitance is limited, and a given feature, or a set of features, will not tell us what the rest of the image will look like. Therefore, we have to distinguish between the description of groups of entire images (where the images in one and the same group belong together in spite of clear iconographic differences), and the statistical survey of single features. “Feature“ is here used as a general term covering both “motifs“ and “formulas“, but designating mainly the former.

Our argument would not be very plausible if it were valid for Deogarh alone. Phenomena like “changing combinations“ are by their very nature not restricted to one or two localities. On the other hand, we must see the limits of this generalization. Differences in the frequency of changing combinations can already be observed at Deogarh itself. There is much more concomitance and hence more “order“ in the Medieval Style (JID) than in the Early-Medieval Style (JID) on which the above observations were mainly based. The twofold approach will no doubt also be useful in the case of the Medieval Style, but taken by itself this style would probably never have stimulated our methodic dichotomy (image-description vs. motif-statistics).

The survey undertaken in the present essay (§§ 11-21) is based on the description and classification as given in Pt. II of JID, and it is roughly speaking an improved version of the iconographic sections scattered over the relevant chapters of JID (§§ 124 ff.: see above). We can also say that the second approach of JID (scattered sections) is midway between image-description as we would understand it now and the statistical survey given below. The second approach of JID was neither fish nor meat.

However, the two new approaches are not all-embracing. It is inevitable to add to them a study in identification (IJI) and a study in the morphology of the images (form of the strands etc., IJI §§ 6 and 8A). We designate the resulting methodic ensemble as the “tetrad“.


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Berliner Indologische Studien

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