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Kantha (Embroidered Quilt)

Artist/maker unknown, Bengali

Made in Bangladesh, Asia
or West Bengal, India, Asia
Made in Undivided Bengal, Asia

19th century

Cotton plain weave with cotton embroidery in back, buttonhole, darning, running, marking cross, cross, dot, eye, stem filling, fern, and seed stitches

37 1/2 x 37 1/2 inches (95.2 x 95.3 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Costume and Textiles

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Stella Kramrisch Collection, 1994

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The Gaudiya Vaishnava devotional imagery on this kantha includes golden-flowered kadamba trees and blue lotus flowers at the corners, both sacred to Krishna. Each side depicts a key episode from the god's early life. At right, baby Krishna mischievously steals butter from his mother's churn. At left, dashing Krishna plays his flute to the enraptured gopis (cowherd women). At bottom, he rides a horse composed of gopis and led by Radha, his paramount lover. At top, he ferries Radha and the gopis across the river, demanding favors for their passage.

Additional information:
  • PublicationKantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal

    Among the most exquisitely detailed of all known pieces, this kantha is also one of the most carefully structured and nuanced in its presentation of Gaudiya Vaishnava devotional imagery. Each of the four sides depicts a key episode from Krishna's early life. Scenes of baby Krishna stealing butter and youthful Krishna fluting to the gopis (cowherd women) at left and right are set within architectural frames. These balance Krishna on the composite horse (navanarigunjara) and as ferryman (combining the naukavilas and danakhanda) at top and bottom.1 The embroiderer carefully contrasts the conical breasts of the young women forming the horse with the drooping ones of the old widow in the boat. The sacred pink-and-blue lotus flowers and the kadamba trees at the corners are equally explicit.2 Darielle Mason, from Kantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal (2009), p. 185.

    1. For an iconographic analysis of these scenes within the Gaudiya Vaishnava context, see Pika Ghosh, “Embroidering Bengal,” this volume.
    2. See Darielle Mason, “Background Texture,” this volume. While Kramrisch did not record the circumstances of her acquisition of this piece, it relates closely in palette, technique, composition, and many details to a square kantha in the Asutosh Museum of the University of Calcutta, said to have been collected in Narail, Jessore District. In Undivided Bengal, Narail constituted the eastern portion of Jessore; today it lies within Khulna Division, Bangladesh. Especially telling on the Asutosh piece is the similarity of the naukavilas motif and, to a lesser extent, the makhan chor scene opposite it, as well as the corner kadambas and elements of the central roundel. This kantha, which is on permanent view at the Asutosh Museum, is published in black-and-white in Sila Basak, Nakshi Kantha of Bengal. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House, 2007, p. 281, no. 303; however, the relationship of color and treatment is only evident when it is viewed in person.The overlap of the images on this kantha to prints produced in Battala, North Calcutta, during the early nineteenth century also allows a relatively early dating (see Pika Ghosh, “Embroidering Bengal,” this volume).