Chola and Vijayangara Bronzes: Archaeometallurgical mapping of shifting iconographies

Publication Type:



2nd Dr. Frank E. Chookolingo and Evamaria E. Chookolingo Memorial Lecture, Banaras Hindu University, Banaras (2017)


South Indian copper alloy statuary icons represent one of the great artistic traditions of the Indian subcontinent spanning the Pallava, Chola and Vijayanagara eras and spreading across Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Since Hindu bronzes in particular were rarely inscribed, it is often difficult on visual and art historical criteria alone to tell apart bronzes of different stylistic genres. This paper highlights the usefulness of archaeometallurgical investigations and finger-printing techniques such as leadisotope analysis in aiding the art historical classification of South Indian bronzes drawing upon past studies undertaken by the author (Srinivasan 1996, 1999, Srinivasan 2016a). The implications of such studies in exploring the iconographic trajectories of bronzes over different periods is explored such as the celebrated Nataraja with the probable attribution of some examples from archaeometallurgical study to the Pallava period. The studies of iconometric conventions in the modeling of icons, seen in conjunction with archaeometallurgical finger-printing also throw interesting light on the iconographic developments from the Chola to the Vijayanagara period of images of Parvati, Rama and so on. Continuing traditions of metal icon making at Swamimalai in Thanjavur district are also touched upon in the light of the above studies