The Kota Master (Indian, active in the early 18th century)
Date: ca. 1720 (recto); ca. 1750–75 (verso)
Culture: India (Rajasthan, Kota)
Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Dimensions: recto: 7 1/2 x 4 3/8 in. (19.1 x 11.1 cm), verso: 9 x 5 7/8 in. (22.9 x 14.9 cm)
Credit Line: Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Fund, 2003
Accession Number: 2003.178a, b
On view in Gallery 464
This small painting done on paper with ink, opaque watercolor, and gold vibrantly illustrates the relationship between Krishna and Radha in Hinduism. Krishna, who is a representation of god, falls into passionate love with Radha, a cowherd girl who is married, in the text of the Bhagavata Purana. Though Radha is initially unnamed in the text, the 12th-century version of the Purana focuses on Krishna and Radha as lovers, and inspired a great deal of poetry and paintings centered on the passionate love between them, including the Sanskrit poem Gitagovinda by the Bengali poet, Jayadeva (Archer, 1957; Doniger, 2009).
Scholars believe Krishna’s relationship with Radha became a focus of the Purana at a time when Muslim invasions of India caused the “seclusion of women” and, in a sense, an abandonment of love and romance in everyday relationships (Archer, 1957: 72). In the 12th-century versions of the Hindu texts, it seems “the function of the new Krishna was to defend these two premises—that romantic love was the most exalted experience in life and secondly, that of all the roads to salvation, the impassioned adoration of God was the most valid” (Archer, 1957: 72–73).
Though there was an artistic focus on Krishna and Radha’s relationship as lovers in poetry and painting following the 12th century, another interpretation of their love (perhaps through a Christianized lens) characterizes their passion as religious allegory. “Radha, it was held, was the soul while Krishna was God. Radha’s sexual passion for Krishna symbolized the soul’s intense longing and her willingness to commit adultery expressed the utter priority which must be accorded to love for God” (Archer, 1957: 75).
This particular painting was done at the beginning of the 18th century, though the focus on Krishna’s relationship with Radha, especially in art, remained strong after the 12th century. The rich use of color, the sense of the lovers’ suspended motion, the striking sunset and the flowering setting around them appears to “vibrate to their ecstasy,” showing the “quintessential Indian idea … that nature echoes the passions” (Kossak, 2003). This painting depicts a moment of true love and adoration in time for the pair, as well as a fleeting glimpse of the setting sun. According to Kossak, this work is the first of the Kota Master to enter the Metropolitan Museum of Art collections, and one of the only from the kingdom of Kota to depict imagery from a Hindu text (2003).
Though the inspiration for this painting is religious, the connection between lovers is a universal theme, which perhaps illustrates that “Indian art doesn’t stick to categories. Sacred and secular are often interchangeable” (Cotter, 2004).
A note about provenance
This painting was created during the Kota Kingdom in Rajasthan, India in about 1720. It was collected by Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky and is currently on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Polskys have a large collection of Indian artwork, particularly paintings, and are interested in “increasing the awareness of the art of Indian Asia in the United States” (Rosenbaum, McInerney, 1982).
(2012). India’s Sacred Geography. Harvard Magazine.
Archer, W. G. (1957). The loves of Krishna. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.
This volume was invaluable in understanding the deep roots of the love story between Krishna and Radha and its place within the evolution of Hinduism. There is an entire section about Krishna’s representation within painting, though the descriptions of their love in poetry was equally illuminating.
Case, M. H. (2000). Seeing Krishna: The religious world of a Brahman family in Vrindaban. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cotter, H. (n.d.). ART REVIEW; Beyond the Cacophony of India to Realms of Princes and Gods. The New York Times.
D., G. P. (1985). Radha-Krishna Controversy. Economic and Political Weekly, 20(15), 625.
Doniger, W. (2009). The Hindus: An Alternative History. New York: Penguin Books.
This text was a useful summary of Krishna and Radha and their roles in the Bhagavata Purana. One interesting point it makes that I didn’t see elsewhere was that Radha and the other cowherd girls were supposed to be maternal guardians of Krishna during his visit. This adds another dimension to their love beyond god and worshipper and equal lovers.
Hawley, J. S., & Wulff, D. M. (1996). Devi: Goddesses of India. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Kossak, S. (1997). Indian court painting: 16th–19th Century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Kossak, S. M. (2003). The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Fall, 65.
Marglin, F. A. (1985). Wives of the God-King: The rituals of the Devadasis of Puri. Delhi; Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
McInerney, T. (1982). Indian paintings from the Polsky collections. Princeton: The Art Museum, Princeton University.
Though this small painting is not featured in the Polsky collection on display at the Art Museum at Princeton University, this text gave context for the provenance of this work of art. Many of the pieces in the Polsky collection show similarities and the goals of the Polsky family were clearly stated in the foreword.
Pauwels, H. R. M. (2009). The goddess as role model: Sita and Radha in scripture and on screen. In Oxford Scholarship Online.
Singer, M. (1966). Krishna: myths, rites, and attitudes. Honolulu: East-West Center Press.
Young, S. (2001). Hinduism. New York: Benchmark Books.