Kantha (Embroidered Quilt)

Artist/maker unknown, Bengali

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

Date:
Late 19th century

Medium:
Cotton plain weave with cotton embroidery in back, buttonhole, chain, darning, satin, split, running, eye, fishbone, and dot stitches

Dimensions:
65 x 40 1/4 inches (165.1 x 102.2 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Costume and Textiles

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
1968-184-10

Credit Line:
Gift of Stella Kramrisch, 1968

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Label:
Along the right border appears the Bengali story of a merchant's vision of the goddess Chandi rising from the ocean on a lotus and emitting elephants. The merchant and his retinue are depicted as wealthy residents of Calcutta out for a jaunt on the Hooghly River. Elsewhere on the kantha are satirical views of role reversal intended to highlight society's moral decline. A man drags his aged mother on a leash while his wife or mistress perches on one shoulder (upper left border). In the lower panel, an unusual motif depicts a red horse astride a crawling man who holds the strings of a hot-air balloon; the embroiderer seems to have combined the satirical image of a horse riding a man with that of a then popular Calcutta circus act involving a girl parachuting from a balloon onto the back of a running horse.

Additional information:
  • PublicationKantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal

    Religious narratives and comments on city life blend here in equal measures. The former include the vision of Kamalekamini (left border), Krishna astride a horse of gopis and a similarly inhabited elephant (bottom and top panels, respectively), and the deities Durga on her lion (top panel) and Shiva on his bull (left border). The latter embraces depictions of Bengal’s urban elite enjoying music, dance, and a pleasure boat ride, as well as stock scenes of exaggerated gender reversal intended to highlight society’s moral decline.1 In the upper panel, a red horse sits astride a crawling man who holds the strings of a hot-air balloon. The embroiderer seems to have combined the satirical image of a horse riding a man with that of a popular Calcutta circus act involving a girl parachuting from a balloon onto a running horse.2 Darielle Mason, from Kantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal (2009), p. 188.

    NOTES
    1. See Pika Ghosh, “Embroidering Bengal”; and Katherine Hacker, “In Search of ‘Living Traditions,’” this volume.
    2. Some variation of this seems to have been performed in late-nineteenth-century Calcutta. For a description and sketch of a Kalighat painting depicting the act, see W. G. Archer, Kalighat Drawings from the Basant Kumar Birla Collection (Bombay: Marg Publications, 1962), plate 20.