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Old 2nd September 2019, 11:08 PM   #1
Gustav
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Default An early figural hilt

Dear All,

another interesting thing auctioned last week.

It is an ivory hilt from 17th cent., possibly earlier, mounted on a wooden base. It appears to be an old Kunstkammer mounting, possibly also 17th cent. It's inscribed "ZUTIBUR", and there is a faded inscription on bottom of base.

It belongs to a small group of hilts with very clearly defined details, which are so similar that an attribution to one carver or workshop seems to be possible.

One of them sits on Dresden 2889, yet in 1684 and before with some bigger possibility was on another Keris mentioned in the same inventory. The second hilt is in a private collection, mounted on a big 17th cent. or earlier blade, both of them with old style Mendak.

There are another hilts on early Keris, on which the figure is in a stage between… well, humanoid and floral form. This tendency we see already in some Majapahit period stone carvings, well before Mantingan carvings. The feature which really is unique to this group of hilts is the small upright triangular symbol in place where lotus blossom/Yoni normally is depicted on figural hilts from that time. Also other features are carved in a style very distinct from other early figural hilts.

Again - who was using such hilts? Social/religious group, a family?
It seems to carry a message.
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Old 3rd September 2019, 02:07 PM   #2
A. G. Maisey
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Gustav, I have read your post many times, and I have been thinking about your words for the last couple of days.

I think that perhaps you are thinking along the lines of hopefully being able to attribute this hilt style to some specific group of people who were present in 16th century Jawa at the time of the early European contacts. My feeling about this is that other than attribution to the broad North Coast Muslim community, it might be just a little bit difficult be any more specific.

However, there is one thing that has really caught my attention, and I am hoping that you will be able to assist, you have written:-

"This tendency we see already in some Majapahit period stone carvings, well before Mantingan carvings."

By the Mantingan carvings, I assume you mean the ornamentation of the Mantingan Mesjid in Japara that dates from about 1560? So yes, carvings produced during the Majapahit era did most certainly precede the Jepara style.

My problem is this:- I cannot recall ever seeing Majapahit era carvings where human figures are represented with some parts of their bodies rendered in the lung-lungan style. I admit, I have never consciously gone looking for this particular style of carving, but I have seen and photographed a lot of Majapahit era carving, so I think I might have noticed it in passing. The lung-lungan style is quite prolific in Majapahit bas reliefs, but I cannot recall ever having seen it applied to a human, or human-like, figure.

I am not saying lung-lungan ornamentation of human figures did not occur in Majapahit era carvings, it may well have, Islam was well established in Majapahit Jawa, and some Muslim individuals could well have commissioned carvings where human and human-like figures had parts of their bodies represented as foliage. But I do not know of this.

In respect of the triangular motif, surely we are looking at the tumpal motif here, and the meaning is dependent upon the situational interpretation --- Javanese iconography rarely has only a single way of being understood, so interpretation depends upon situational factors, and in the historical sense that can make a single valid interpretation of the motif somewhere between difficult and impossible.

You have commented:-

" It seems to carry a message."

I am uncertain what you mean by this, could you expand a little on this comment?

Thank you.
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Old 3rd September 2019, 11:09 PM   #3
Gustav
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Alan, thank you for your response to my post.

I know your opinion is that the early figural hilts depicting more or less demonic beings belong to North Coast Muslim community, and I am sure you know I suppose there could be hilts from other regions and earlier non-Muslim hilts amongst these as well. I am absolutely fine with this situation.

Well, I am aware that Majapahit preceded Mantingan Mesjid. I mentioned it exactly because there is an opinion the "hiding" of an anthropomorphe figure under scrolls/cloud ornaments/foliage started when Islam took over. This opinion has its merits and is true to certain degree, but I think we should perhaps start to question its simple comprehensive usage.

The image attached is a carving from East-Java, 13th/14th cent. from Jakarta, Museum Nasional. At the left we see a demonic being, his arms, head turning into scrolls, hair into cloud-like shapes. An interesting point is, that it is squatting very much like the figures on Keris hilts. Bernet Kempers has interpreted the cloud-like shape in the right upper corner as a head of Nogo, and pointed out, that such reinterpretations are a typical feature of Majapahit art. Stutterheim saw in this feature the "magically loaded art" of East Javanese reliefs.

I doubt this relief was commissioned by an Muslim individual.

About the word "message" in this context. The triangular symbol instead of a Lotus blossom/Yoni - on later Balinese hilts we see a Bintulu or a precious stone in that place. The meaning of this feature is protective, apotropaic, we see such apotropaic symbols before/at the feet of a figure also in Majapahit art.

Why a triangular symbol instead of Lotus/Yoni/Bintulu for a small group of very similar hilts? I think there is a message in it.
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Old 4th September 2019, 09:12 AM   #4
Jean
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gustav

Why a triangular symbol instead of Lotus/Yoni/Bintulu for a small group of very similar hilts? I think there is a message in it.


May be because the yoni depiction was no longer acceptable in the Muslim-influenced society at that time? It reminds me of the "modesty plates" worn by the young Bugis girls for hiding their genitals.
I wonder whether these triangular motifs on the hilts are original or added later (not clear from the pics).

Last edited by Jean : 4th September 2019 at 09:29 AM.
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Old 4th September 2019, 09:42 AM   #5
A. G. Maisey
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Gustav, the process of Islamisation in Jawa was overall, a gentle one.

Certainly we can identify wars that took place between the old order of Hindu-Buddhist, and the new order of Islam, that were far less than gentle, but these wars were primarily political in nature, rather than religious. Islam inserted itself gently into Javanese society, and it did this the way that has often been employed by other religions and other philosophies across the world. Islam took practices and styles associated with Javanese society and it used these practices and styles as tools to draw people to the new philosophy of Islam:- nothing had changed, only slight variations in expression and of course that big variation that all men, even rulers, were as one before the One God.

During the early years of Islamisation there was a gradual insertion and intensification of Islamic philosophies into the architectural and artistic style that was associated with Old Jawa, even going far back before Majapahit, and in fact being able to be seen in eras as early as those associated with the Candi Songo Complex. So, when we see the intertwined foliage motifs that are broadly referred to now as "lung-lungan" (lung = tendril, sprout, lung-lungan is the name of the motif that uses vines, tendrils, sprouts to create forms and infill), what we are seeing is a very old style of Javanese art that has been adapted to express Islamic ideals.

Later when the influence of Chinese artistic expression penetrated the North Coast settlements, we can see the interpolation of the lung-lungan motif into the Chinese inspired cloud motifs that are associated with the North Coast. It seems to be a universal human characteristic that we see pictures in cloud formations. We see trees, and dragons, and galloping horses --- and Joni Mitchell saw "Rows and flows of angel hair, And ice cream castles in the air, And feather canyons everywhere". In any case, the human imagination at play seems to find unrelated forms in other forms, the Javanese people are human beings, and more than 1000 years ago they were expressing these perceptions of forms within their artistic styles.

It did not start with Majapahit, it began a long time before that, but it intensified under Islamic influence and became a tool to assist in Islamisation.

We cannot look at keris hilts in isolation from everything else that was happening in Jawa at any particular period. Yes, beyond doubt the representation of human and humanoid forms as forms concealed by non-human characteristics did intensify under Islam, but it did not start with Islam, it is a recognised Javanese style of expression that began very much earlier.

In respect of the Mantingan Mesjid what we have here is a wonderful example of the Jepara style, a style that is later shown in the Jepara wood carving style, and (to me at least) seems to appear in the Batuan style of 20th century Bali. Bearing in mind the influences on 20th century Balinese artistic expression, it seems possible that this perceived influence can trace its roots back to Jepara.

That East Jawa bas-relief is a bit of problem, as I have never been able to find any information on exactly where it came from, all that ever appears is a reference to Tulung Agung. For the last 100 years or so "Tulung Agung" has been the name applied to a kabupaten on the south coast of East Jawa, about 100miles south of Surabaya. However, originally it was only applied to a very small area that was the place of a major spring, or at least water source, I'm guessing it was a spring. The area around Tulung Agung was known as Ngrowo. Now Bernet Kempers wrote in the 20th century, so I'm assuming that when he tells us that this bas-relief comes from Tulung Agung, he is referring to the kabupaten of Tulung Agung that was previously known as Ngrowo.

In the Kabuptaen of Tulung Agung there are the remains of Candi Boyolangu, also known as Candi Gayatri. Candi Gayatri dates from about 1360-something, and is one of four(?) candis that were prepared to receive the remains (either actual or spiritual) of Gayatri Rajapatni, a wife of Raden Wijaya, mother of Wijayatunggadewi and grandmother of Hayam Wuruk. She was the educative & guiding power behind Gajah Mada. If there had been no Gayatri, there might never have been a Kingdom of Majapahit that came to be regarded as Jawa's Golden Age.

So, my personal belief is that this bas-relief probably came from the ruins of Candi Gayatri. If we examine the figures shown in this bas-relief, the naga is obvious and is not divergent from the Javanese style that I have just mentioned, but it is clearly a later development. Probably this Naga is Naga Basuki, but Anantaboga is also a possibility. Naga Basuki and Naga Anantaboga represent the needs of mankind.

Bernet Kempers refers to the "demonic" figure on the left as a "bhuta". I believe we can go further than this, I think this figure is actually a representation of Bhoma. Bhoma is the son of Wisnu and Dewi Pertiwi, Wisnu is the deity who controls rain, Pertiwi is the Earth Mother, their son Bhoma is the result of Wisnu's rape of Pertiwi, and his name has the meaning "of the earth" Bhoma is the spirit of the forest, of vegetation, of growth, growth occurs because of the union of rain and earth, and Bhoma is both the personification of this growth and its guardian. Bhoma is born of the Earth and is often shown with tendrils coming from parts of his body, or where only the head of Bhoma appears above a gateway, tendrils coming from his mouth.

Now, why do I think this bas-relief might come from Candi Gayatri, well, there is a reference to Gayatri Rajapatni in the bas-relief. At Bhoma's feet is a Hamsa, a goose. In Hindu belief the goose is the vahana of several deities, one of those deities is Gayatri, the personification of the Vedic Gayatri Mantra, and the consort of Siwa, or according to another sect, the consort of Brahma. The Vedic Gayatri is of course the source of Gayatri Rajapatni's name.

This leaves the figure in the middle unidentified. I am inclined to think that this figure is representative of Humanity making an offering to Bhoma whilst observed the Naga Basuki. It would help if we knew exactly where this bas-relief came from, but wherever it came from, it cannot be simply written off as a "comic scene" which is what Bernet Kempers referred to it as. I sometimes wonder at some of our recognised "Greats". Art in this context was never art for amusement or for art's sake, it was an offering to those of the Niskala.

Now if we read this entire bas relief in terms of its iconographic content, what we might have is Naga Basuki who is representative of the needs of Mankind observing Mankind making an offering to Bhoma who is the guardian of the means of fulfilling those needs, and all in the presence of Gayatri, whose presence is implied by the presence of the Hamsa.

As for Stutterheim's "magically loaded East Javanese reliefs", well, yeah, welcome to the human race. At points in the development of Humanity all art is certainly symbolically loaded, symbolism is only ever meant to be understood by those who are chosen to understand it, and that which is not understood is, of course, one of the definitions of "magic".

Now, in respect of this yoni : lotus : karang bintulu : tumpal conundrum.

From my perspective, I am not yet sure that I can accept the assumptions upon which the riddle has been posed. The question may well be a valid one, but if it is, it is one that I have not yet devoted more than passing attention to. I most certainly have never looked closely at the factors involved.
We know how to read the presence of a tumpal, the presence of a karang bintulu seems to imply a reference to Kala, and/or possibly to Bhoma, the presence of a lotus can be interpreted in a number of ways and is situational, the feature that is sometimes interpreted as a yoni, well, that becomes exceedingly difficult, because it could perhaps be a matter of misreading. In Balinese carving, the karang bintulu is used as one of the fill motifs and in accordance with laid down process.

There are a lot of questions attached to this riddle, and I do not think that I currently have sufficient understanding of the motifs involved and their respective frames of reference to even begin to think about a possible analysis.
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Old 4th September 2019, 03:25 PM   #6
Gustav
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jean
May be because the yoni depiction was no longer acceptable in the Muslim-influenced society at that time? It reminds me of the "modesty plates" worn by the young Bugis girls for hiding their genitals.
I wonder whether these triangular motifs on the hilts are original or added later (not clear from the pics).


The lotus/Yoni thing appears on the back Tumpal, as always is the case with the hilts on which it appears at all.
It is quite clear that the triangles are original, and we have them only on these (at the moment) three hilts which share a complete iconographic program and carving style.

Perhaps you could name a feature, which is Muslim-influenced on this hilt?

Modesty plates were absolutely common in Majapahit. There are very fine golden examples.
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Old 4th September 2019, 03:26 PM   #7
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Alan, thank you very much for your interesting post.
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