Krishna, the mischievous Divine Cowherd, has stolen the clothes of the bathing gopis, who shiver with cold but also with delight in their devotion to their lord. This splendid allegory of spiritual love is attributed to an esteemed unknown artist referred to as the Early Master at the Court of Mandi. His hand is recognizable in the verdant green background with a high horizon line populated with small figures, the trees with exposed trunks and branches, and the female figures with refined facial features.
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Title:"Krishna Steals the Clothing of the Gopis (Female Cowherds)", Folio from the Devotional Text of the Bhagavata Purana
Artist:Attributed to The Early Master at the Court of Mandi (Indian, active ca. 1635–1660)
Medium:Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Dimensions:Page: H. 13 3/8 in. (34 cm) W. 9 7/16 in. (24 cm) Painting: H. 11 7/8 in. (30.2 cm) W. 8 in. (20.3 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Steven Kossak, The Kronos Collections, 2020
Krishna Steals the Clothing of the Gopis
This scene from the Bhagavata Purana takes place on an empty, grassy hillock on the banks of the Kalindi River. After worshipping the goddess one morning the gopis (milkmaids) undress, leaving their clothes on the shore as they bathe naked in the river. Happening by, the mischievous god Krishna gathers up their clothes and takes them with him as he climbs a nearby kadamba tree. He calls to the girls to retrieve their clothes, but they remain in the water. According to the story, "When (Krishna) warns that he will not return their clothes unless they come for them, the gopis come out of the water, shivering with cold. (Krishna) pities them and returns their clothes. The cowherdesses are not angry; rather, they are delighted because they enjoy the company of their beloved. He has stolen their hearts. After they put on their clothes (Krishna) asks them to go back home and says they will enjoy the following night with him."
This succinctly organized painting, once termed an “allegory of the soul’s relation to God,” has all the stylistic hallmarks of the great unknown artist whom Catherine Glynn calls the Early Master at the Court of Mandi. These hallmarks include a lime green background with a high horizon line populated with small figures; trees with exposed trunks and branches; and small-headed female figures, often defined by stippling and shading, with refined facial features.
The gopis shiver in the foreground here, while Krishna ogles them from his perch. However their discarded clothing, which is required by the narrative, is nowhere to be seen. In the background the gopis’ friends, the feckless gopas (cowherds), with their well-behaved cows, are walking through the highly naturalistic, Mughal-inspired landscape. Inhabiting their background space like so many sleepwalkers, they seem oblivious to what is happening in the foreground. With its stripped-down appearance and haunting narrative, this painting has the same feeling of suspended movement that characterizes a not-to-be-forgotten dream.
Terence McInerney, Steven Kossak, and Navina Haidar in [McInerney 2016]
1. Bhagavata Purana, 0.22.138, as quoted in Kramrisch, Stella. Painted Delight: Indian Paintings from Philadelphia Collections. Exh. cat. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1986, p. 183.
2. Kramrisch, Stella. Painted Delight: Indian Paintings from Philadelphia Collections. Exh. cat. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1986, p. 183.
3. For discussion of the work and career of this artist, see Glynn, Catherine. “The Early Master at the Court of Mandi.” In Beach, Milo, Eberhard Fisher, and B. N. Goswamy, eds. Masters of Indian Painting. 2011, vol. I, pp. 407–24; Glynn, Catherine. “Early Painting in Mandi.” Artibus Asiae 44, no. 1, 1983, pp. 21–64; and Guy, John and Jorrit Britschgi. Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India, 1100–1900. Exh. cat., 2011–12. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011, p. 106.
4. Originally, this painting probably belonged to the same Bhagavata Purana series as the picture published in Glynn in Beach, Fischer, and Goswamy, eds., 2011 (see note 3), vol. I, p. 414; and Guy and Britschgi, 2011 (see note 3), no 52. For another depiction of this same subject, from the so-called "Mody" Bhagavata Purana, thought to have been painted in the kingdom of Kangra about 1790, see W.G. Archer. Indian Painting. New York: Oxford University Press, 1957, pl. 11.
Svetoslav Roerich Russian, Zurich; [ Terence McInerney Fine Arts Ltd. , New York]; Howard Hodgkin British, London; [ John Lawrence Fine Arts Inc. , London; sold to Kossak]; Steven M. Kossak , New York (until 2020; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Divine Pleasures: Painting from India's Rajput Courts—The Kronos Collections," June 13–September 11, 2016, 36.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Seeing the Divine: Pahari Painting of North India," December 22, 2018–July 28, 2019.
Senior Research Assistant Courtney A. Stewart highlights paintings featured in Divine Pleasures: Painting from India's Rajput Courts—The Kronos Collections that depict various incarnations of the god Vishnu.
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