Bronze Beauty

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum curator Christina Nielsen shares the story behind a prized souvenir.

christina nielsen Shiva Nataraja bronze sculpture

Photograph by Tony Luong

It’s not every day that you’re accused of smuggling an ancient artifact out of India. But that’s what happened to Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum curator Christina Nielsen when airport workers in Mumbai discovered this 12-inch-high bronze sculpture—a depiction of the Hindu god Shiva Nataraja—inside her suitcase. Nielsen, a specialist in ancient and medieval artwork, had purchased the piece after watching Indian artisans in Tamil Nadu create it using the centuries-old lost-wax method. The sculpture’s exquisite craftsmanship raised suspicion among airport personnel, but thanks to a handy receipt, Nielsen was finally able to convince them that it was new. She now keeps the work, a symbol for the “cosmic flow of life,” in her Belmont living room. When in the sculpture’s presence, “they say you have God’s blessings,” Nielsen says with a laugh. “But I had a little trouble in the airport.”

christina nielsen

Photograph by Tony Luong