Villa Vrindavana, Italy—Just a few miles outside the famous city of Florence, Italy, home of the Italian Renaissance and some of the world’s greatest treasures of art, sits the beautiful 200 acre Villa Vrindavana, one of ISKCON’s most renowned temple properties.
The historic villa with its 4-storied medieval structure, wood-beamed ceilings, rolling hills, expansive views, olive trees, and sundrenched Tuscan sky is endowed with a natural ambiance that leads a thoughtful person to contemplate the beauty of this world, as well as the source of that beauty.
Thus, the opening Saturday July 14 of the Museum of Spiritual Art (MOSA) at Villa Vrindavan was not only a most appropriate setting, but also a joyous occasion for those who long labored for this expansion of the Villa’s attractions.
“Villa Vrindavana sits in the heart of one of Europe’s most beautiful places and is near the home of some of its most famous works of art,” said Parabhakti das, President of Villa Vrindavana. “This new museum is a natural outgrowth of this dynamic setting.”
A panoramic view from Villa Vrindavana overlooks some of its gardens and the vast Tuscan skyline.
The first phase of the Villa Vrindavana museum which just opened, fills five large rooms with twenty grand sized paintings of India’s classic literature, the Mahabharata. The paintings reveal in vibrant colors the drama, emotion, intrigue, and divine purposes of the Mahabharata and its epic battle between the forces of good and evil.
Jnananjana das, artist of most of the pieces on display commented, “I worked for five years to complete these paintings. The original idea was to create a traveling museum to crisscross Europe and introduce people to the Mahabharata and the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita.”
However, it was a meeting two years ago with Mahaprabhu das of Belgium, the founder of the first Museum of Spiritual Art located at ISKCON’s Radhadesh Temple outside Brussels that cemented the idea of using Jnananjana’s works to create a museum at the Villa.
Jnanajana das (left) and Pandu das outside the entrance to the new museum in Villa Vrindavana
“Although the idea of a museum had been discussed for years, when I and my friend Pandu das—who had funded most of the paintings—spoke with Mahaprabhu, we realized that Villa Vrindavana was the perfect setting for the Mahabharata works,” said Jnananjana.
So it was that just two months before the opening a final decision was made to house the Museum in the historic formal entry rooms in the villa. Each of those spacious rooms contained centuries old marble or brick floors and high, vaulted ceilings. Yet, the rooms themselves were in need of repair before being utilized, so plans were made to refurbish them first.
Jnananjana, who in addition to creating fine art has thirty years experience in restoring frescoes and other artworks in ancient castles throughout Europe, oversaw the building restoration as well. During that was assisted by his son Gopal das, who is also an artist.
When the restoration team began removing layers of white paint on the ceilings of the future Museum, they were pleased to discover elaborate hand painted, centuries old designs. Finding this unexpected treasure, it was decided to recreate a different look with the ceilings in each room.
Thus, two of the ceilings were refurbished to maintain the original design, one ceiling (that had decayed more) was painted completely new in the spirit of the original designs, and two rooms—perhaps the most beautiful—were left exposed yet untouched, in effect revealing the faded, yet still visible exquisite ceiling designs.
An historic painted ceiling design in one of the Museum rooms was revealed during restoration. It was left as is, and now beautifully adorns the Museum.
The artworks themselves are stunning. Ranging in size from about 5’ x 6’ to almost 8’ x 14’, the works include an impressive rendition of Princess Kunti’s calling to the Sun God, the five Pandava’s meeting to plan the next day of battle with soon-to-be-killed Abhimanyu, Arjuna and Krishna riding into battle, Krishna showing His universal form, Bhisma being overcome by Arjuna’s arrows, Karna’s heart-breaking meeting with Kunti, his mother, before the battle, and much more.
The large and striking rendition of the universal form, like many of Jnananjana’s pieces, makes use of dramatic colors and a contrast of movement and serenity. In the foreground we see the peaceful Lord Krishna emerging from the Kaurava’s meeting hall, while the universal form itself swirls all around Him, with its overpowering images of creation, devastation, time, desire, death, rebirth, and illusion.
Jnananjana das next to his rendition of Lord Krishna revealing his universal form at the Kaurava assembly hall, just before placing the painting in the new Museum
“Art is another form of language,” said Jnananjana. “I am grateful to be able to communicate Krishna conscious philosophy and culture through this medium using color and form to evoke an emotional response for those who view my paintings.”
Future expansion of the Museum is already planned. It will include additional upstairs rooms in the Villa and focus on the themes of the epic Ramayana, Krishna-lila stories from the Bhagavat-Purana, and stories of Sri Caitanya from the Caitanya Charitamrita.
Princess Kunti dazzled by the light of the Sun God
“Srila Prabhupada said that these paintings are windows to the spiritual world, and that when people see them, they should ‘think I want to be there,’” said Jnananjana.
With that as the goal, the Museum of Spiritual Art is a unique contribution. It is destined to have a major impact on all those who are fortunate to visit and admire its wondrous expressions of the best of both Italian and Vaishnava cultures.
The Pandavas, with Yudhistira (right), and Abhimanyu (second from left) in their tent plan the next day’s battle
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Atma Tattva Das, ISKCON News Staff Writer
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