The Freud Museum

Vishnu statue

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3004, Vishnu statue, 20th century

Artist: Photographer: Ardon Bar Hama
Culture: Indian
Material: Ivory and wood
Dimensions: 20 x 11 x 6 cm

Figure of Vishnu seated under the five-headed cobra Sesha, with a Sanskrit dedication to Freud on a brass plaque attached to the sandalwood base. The figure was a gift to Freud from the Indian Psychoanalytic Society.

Vishnu is one of Hinduism's major deities and represents healing. Sitting on a five-headed serpent that represents the universe, in his hands he holds his attributes: a lotus flower, club, discus and conch. Freud stated 'As long as I can enjoy life it will recall to my mind the progress of psychoanalysis, the proud conquests it has made in foreign countries, and the kind feelings it has aroused in some of my contemporaries at least'.

Hilda Doolittle mention that during her second session Freud 'took the ivory Vishnu with the upright serpents and canopy of snakeheads, and put it in my hands'. She recalls it both 'compelled me, yet repelled me at the same time' reminding her of 'a half flower cut lengthwise', a 'half-lily' with Vishnu as the erect stamen and the cobras as the petals. It was a symbol of both virginity and fertility, and also a double male image of immense but threatening power. 'Did he want to find out how I would react to certain ideas embodied in those little statues, or how deeply I felt the dynamic idea still implicit in spite of the fact that ages or aeons of time have flown over many of them?', H.D asks.


Information from Ro Spankie, 2014, 'An Anecdoted Topography of Sigmund Freud's desk'

See this object on our Collections site here

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