Kantha (Embroidered Quilt)

Artist/maker unknown, Bengali

Geography:
Made in Bangladesh, Asia
or West Bengal, India, Asia
Made in Undivided Bengal, Asia

Date:
19th century

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

Dimensions:
33 1/2 x 33 1/2 inches (85.1 x 85.1 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Costume and Textiles

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
1994-148-703

Credit Line:
Stella Kramrisch Collection, 1994

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Label:
Women often drew their designs on the cloth prior to embroidering them. Red underdrawing is visible below the embroidery on this piece. Look especially at the face of the central woman to the right of the tree at bottom. It is drawn in the same sophisticated three-quarter view used in popular prints and paintings made in Calcutta during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some stories shown in this kantha come from the Bengali Hindu narrative tradition, including the merchant's vision of the goddess Chandi rising from the ocean on a lotus (top) and the divine hero Rama battling the multiheaded demon Ravana (left). At bottom mischievous Krishna absconds with the clothes of the bathing gopis (cowherd women). At right is the satirical scene of a man being beaten with a broom by his wife or mistress. Curiously, the blue circle below the wife contains the Muslim invocation of God (Ya Allah) written in Arabic script, giving pause to any easy separation of religious affiliations.

Additional information:
  • PublicationKantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal

    This frugally stitched kantha holds a medley of intertwined motifs that make it one of the richest in meaning.1 Perhaps the most significant is a small roundel bearing the Muslim invocation of God (Ya Allah), placed just below a satirical scene of an effete babu being beaten with a broom by his wife or mistress (left). The imagery also includes a variety of stories drawn from the Bengali Hindu narrative tradition, including (counterclockwise from bottom) the merchant’s vision of Kamalekamini (the goddess Chandi rising from the ocean on a lotus), the divine hero Rama battling multiheaded demon Ravana, and the beloved vastraharana episode in which Krishna absconds to a treetop with the bathing gopis’ clothes.2 Extensive red underdrawing with sophisticated three-quarter faces is visible especially below this last motif where the embroidery deviates from the drawn lines. Darielle Mason, from Kantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal (2009), p. 187.

    NOTES
    1. In the black-and-white photograph Kramrisch published with her 1939 article (Stella Kramrisch, "Kantha." Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art 7, pp. 141-67, reprinted in this volume), this piece appears to have been in significantly better condition. While she does not indicate a region of origin, a work in the collection of the Asutosh Museum with closely related motifs and drawing, although not by the same hand, is recorded as coming from Amirpur in the Khulna District of Undivided Bengal. A detail of this piece is published in Sukla Das, Fabric Art Heritage of India (New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1992), fig. 61.
    2. See Pika Ghosh, “Embroidering Bengal,” this volume. War chariots and processional chariots (rathas) seem to share the same form in kanthas, as they do in other contemporary images such as Battala prints. Here Rama rides a war chariot filled with Shiva lingas, and the composition borrows freely from but does not replicate a particular Battala print of a Ramayana battle, a copy of which is included in an album in the Herwitz Collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts (see Darielle Mason, “Background Texture,” this volume).