We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


Vishnu as Narasimha

20th century


Unknown Artist

No image
  • Details

    Other Title
    Man-lion incarnation of Vishnu
    Places where the work was made
    Thanjavur (Tanjore) Tamil Nadu India
    Karnataka India
    20th century
    Media category
    Materials used
    pigment on glass; reverse painting on glass with cut glass embellishment
    59.0 x 44.5 cm
    Gift of Dr Jim Masselos 2022
    Not on display
    Accession number
  • About

    Avatars or manifestations of the great Hindu god Vishnu come to earth to restore order at times of instability. When the demon Hiranyakasipu threatened the peace, Vishnu was tasked with restoring the order, but the god Brahma had promised Hiranyakasipu that he could not be killed by either a human or animal and so Vishnu assumed the half-lion, half-man form of Narasimha in order to defeat him. Although the battle scene is not depicted here, Narasimha’s rage is conveyed through the symbolism of his open mouth and flaming tongues that form a cloud behind his head. Seated on his throne, his wife Lakshmi smelling a flower is seated on his knee.

    This image was made by painting onto the reverse side of a piece of glass. In the 17th century reverse glass painting was introduced to China from Europe by Jesuit missionaries and from there made its way to India via the global maritime and land-based trade networks. Initially a luxury item in India, by the 19th century, reverse glass paintings of religious themes like this one as well as secular subjects and portraits were being commissioned by people from diverse societal backgrounds.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 1 exhibition

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 1 publication