Standing nonchalantly on a polished dark pedestal on the second storey of the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad, a hypnotic wood sculpture depicts the life-size figure of a man in a hooded cloak with a defiant smile on his lips. Back to back, in the mirror behind him, one can also see a demure woman with her head bowed slightly, eyes lowered, carrying a prayer book. Carved out of a single log of sycamore wood, the incredible double statue known as the Double Statue of Mephistopheles and Margaretta, features both the characters within the same block of wood, but facing on opposite sides.
The theatrical scene of the sculpture unfolds when a mirror is placed behind the male figure, which would mean that the male figure is in front of the female figure, making it appear as though the woman is standing behind the man. Behind the visual trickery is a far deeper dichotomy embodied in this arresting sculpture is a metaphor for the forces of evil and good and makes it evident that the mesmerizing duo clearly represents the protagonists from Goethe's iconic Faust.
Goethe’s Faust is the story of a highly successful man, who is dissatisfied with his life. He was lured by Mephistopheles, the devil, whose clever arguments ignited Faust’s interest in sensual pleasures. When Mephistopheles proposed to do anything and everything to satisfy Faust’s wants in his life on earth, in exchange of his service to the devil in hell, Faust readily agreed and signed the deal with a drop of his blood. After he exchanged his soul for unlimited worldly pleasures, Faust seduced an innocent girl, Margaretta and impregnated her. Distraught by the shame of having a child out of wedlock, Margaretta drowned the child and was convicted for murder. However, when Faust tried to help her to escape, she refused to be saved. Much later, Faust achieved redemption by his good deeds and reached heaven, where he was reunited with Margaretta.
The Double Statue of Mephistopheles and Margaretta was created by an unknown French sculptor sometimes around the 1870s, when there was a sudden surge of interest in German culture, literature and art following the unification of Germany under Otto Von Bismark. The unusual piece of sculpture attracted the attention of Nawab Mir Turab Ali Khan, when he was in France on his trip to Europe in 1876. During that time he was the Prime Minister of the Nizam of Hyderabad and the grandfather of Nawab Mir Yousuf Ali Khan, Salar Jing III, who was instrumental in the fabulous collection of the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad. He acquired the Double Statue in France and also purchased another marvellous marble statue, the Veiled Rebecca, from Rome.
The Double Statue of Mephistopheles and Margaretta, exhibited in the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad, is probably the most photographed sculpture in the museum.