Christian Themes in Indian Art: From the Mogul Times till Today

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Christian Themes in Indian Art: From the Mogul Times till Today. By Anand Amaladass and Gudrun Löwner. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers, 2012. Pp. 428, with ca. 1,100 fall-color illustrations. Rs 4,000.

Anand Amaladass, S.J., and Gudrun Löwner are to be commended for assembling this encyclopedic volume on Christian themes in Indian art. The project is both interconfessional and interreligious, covering artists from all confessional backgrounds, as well as non-Christian artists who incorporate Christian themes. There is nothing comparable for any other country or region of Asia. The only book on Christian art from the Global South that comes close is Christliche Kunst in Afrika (Berlin, 1984), by Josef Franz Thiel and Heinz HeIf.

Amaladass and Löwner succeed with a balance between interpretation and high-quality, full-color illustrations. This is far beyond the usual coffee-table book on such subjects. The first chapter contains a rich sample of Christian art produced under Portuguese influence in Goa. It is predominantly an imperial baroque art that spread from the motherland to Latin America, Africa, and Asia with very little accommodation. Remarkable in this respect are the Good Shepherd Rockeries, which are influenced by the Hindu iconography of Krishna, who also appears as a shepherd (pp. 29-33). In contrast, the earliest known material evidence of Christian art in India, the Thomas Cross in Chennai (7th/8th century), receives only brief mention (pp. 17, 373). This unique combination of a Syrian cross under a Hindu makara gate standing on a lotus or overflowing vessel is a classic piece of accommodation art. With its rich cosmic symbolism it demonstrates the interactions between Christians who consider the apostle Thomas their founding father and their Hindu context.

The next two chapters deal with interreligious encounters between Christian faith and the two major religions represented in India today, Hinduism and Islam. When the Mogul emperors took over India, Akbar (reigned 1556-1605) in particular, as well as his son Jahangir (1605-27), showed interest in interreligious conversation. …