Kantha (Embroidered Quilt)

Artist/maker unknown, Bengali

Geography:
Made in Jessore District, Bangladesh, Asia
or West Bengal, India, Asia

Date:
Late 19th century

Medium:
Cotton plain weave with cotton embroidery in back, darning, outline, running, fishbone, and surface satin stitches

Dimensions:
75 x 48 1/4 inches (190.5 x 122.6 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Costume and Textiles

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
1968-184-1

Credit Line:
Gift of Stella Kramrisch, 1968

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Label:
This embroiderer is distinguished by her acute observations of nature and the world around her. In the narrow central panel she has portrayed two pomegranate trees in many stages of maturation, including buds, flowers, and several sizes and colors of fruit, the ripest stitched in pure red. On one side of the trees, six saddled elephants each sniff a red ball, probably the grain-sugar balls fed to elephants across South Asia. Opposite them, six saddled horses stand nose to nose and graze from baskets of two different local forms. Concentric black and white circles on the outer border visually evoke appliqué work by their boldness.

Additional information:
  • PublicationKantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal

    Concentric black and white circles on the outer border of this kantha visually evoke appliqué work in their boldness. Instead of the usual radial composition, the narrow central panel holds two flowering pomegranate trees that rise to an equine center-point. These trees demonstrate careful observation of the plant in many stages of maturation, including buds, flowers, and several sizes and colors of fruit, the ripest stitched in pure red. On one side of the trees are six saddled elephants positioned trunk to tail, each sniffing a red ball.1 Opposite them, six saddled horses stand nose to nose and graze from several types of baskets. Stella Kramrisch linked these confronted horses to images found in the first millennium b.c. and earlier (see Stella Kramrisch, "Kantha." Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art 7, plate XI).2 This particular embroiderer’s love of acute observation, however, suggests that her model was far closer to home. Darielle Mason, from Kantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal (2009), p. 227.

    NOTES
    1. While the red balls reflect the shape and color of the pomegranates, they might represent the balls of grain and jaggery (palm sugar) often fed to elephants across South Asia.
    2. The conical baskets at either end of this kantha, however, accurately depict a basket form used for livestock in nineteenth-century Bengal.