In the center of this work, Yashoda (Krishna’s foster mother) turns as Balarama (Krishna’s brother) pulls her shawl, and while she is distracted, Krishna reaches into the pot at her feet to steal freshly churned butter. The composition of this painting presents the various figures as if they were standing on a stage bracketed by green pillars. Yashoda twists her statuesque body, giving it a sense of three-dimensionality, and her face is shown in perfect profile. The formal elegance of late Kangra paintings such as this one is the product of active and well-patronized workshops that drew talent from the nearby Guler court atelier, where many of the works in this exhibition were created a generation or two earlier.
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Title:Krishna as a Child Stealing Butter, folio from the devotional text of the Bhagavata Purana
Culture:India, Punjab Hills, kingdom of Kangra or Guler
Medium:Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Dimensions:Page: H. 7 3/16 in. (18.3 cm) W. 10 3/4 in. (27.3 cm) Painting: H. 6 7/8 in. (17.5 cm) W. 10 5/16 in. (26.2 cm)
Credit Line:Promised Gift of Steven Kossak, The Kronos Collections
Because Krishna’s natural father wished to save the infant god from evil demons, he delivered him to a village in Braj, the rural area outside of Mathura. There he grew up with his older brother Balarama in the house of his foster father, Nanda, the cow herd (gopa), and that of the milk maiden (gopi) Yashoda, Nanda’s wife. Yet the two mischievous brothers began to get into trouble in Nanda’s and Yashoda’s house almost from the start. In this stately painting, the two young brothers, a cow herd (gopa) friend, Nanda, Yashoda, and two maids are arrayed in the narrow foreground like figures on a proscenium stage. The two brothers are working together in pursuit of their favorite treat: freshly churned butter and curds. Whiteskinned Balarama is tugging at Yashoda’s odhani, or veil; while blue- skinned Krishna reaches into her churning vessel. Their gopa friend clutches Nanda’s staff and points to Yashoda. On the left two attractive milk maidens (gopis) whisper together, the one bringing a pot of cream for the churning vessel, the other raising her finger in an attitude of surprise. “The painting offers an interesting illustration of a simple churning mechanism, one probably used by many households in rural India. The churning staff is rotated by pulling a string wrapped around it, while it is held upright by an additional string holding it to a post set in the ground next to the butter jar. The setting with its finely carved columns, walls set with niches, wood screen door, and decorative frieze, is remarkably palatial for a cowherd’s house.” For a later, yet nearly identical painting, see Robert Skelton, Indian Miniatures from the XVth to XIXth Centuries (Venice: Neri Pozzi Editore, 1961), no. 85. (l) Joan Cummins et al 20ll, pg. 184
Swiss collection 1983
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Divine Pleasures: Painting from India's Rajput Courts—The Kronos Collections," June 13–September 11, 2016.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Seeing the Divine: Pahari Painting of North India," December 22, 2018–July 28, 2019.