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May 31st, 2002
From Poetry Into Paint, The Theme Of Love Is Explored In Indian Art

Philadelphia, PA (May 31, 2002) -- From June 18 through December 2002, paintings exploring the theme of love in 17th and 18th century India will be on view in the William P. Wood Gallery. Love By The Book includes seventeen paintings on paper and one on cloth, a manuscript, and an elaborate lacquer box all drawn from the Museum’s collections. These works reflect, through the eyes of the Indian artist, a wide range of visual responses to the pleasures, traumas, nuances, and metaphors of love relationships.

Many of the works give visual form to the popular 16th century poetic text known as the Rasikapriya (The Connoisseur’s Favorite) that reflect on the situations lovers find themselves in, including a woman lusting after a man she has just met, a married woman completely taken with her husband, and a deserted woman. One lavishly detailed and vividly painted work, The Account of the Confidante (Western India, c. 1680), shows a woman in her bed, hoping for her lover to arrive, while her girlfriend acts as a gobetween. The position of the woman in love is exaggerated by the surrounding architecture as her friend gestures towards her.

Other works illuminate verses inspired by the melodic compositions (ragas) that comprise classical Indian music. Ragas are generally played at particular times of year to invoke specific emotions. In the painting of A Couple by Candlelight (Western India, c. 1760) an ambient light is cast on an intimate couple under a moonlit sky. Flanked by candles, the two embrace among the lotuses. The text inscribed above describes a night "enchanted with amorous play…." A vibrant orange background contributes to suggest the warmth emitted by the candles and shared by the couple.

In addition to depicting the many ways of lovers, Love By the Book also reveals the remarkable ways in which Indian painters translated poetry into imagery during the 1600s and 1700s. In The Sexually-Experienced Heroine (Western India, c. 1760), the painter closely follows an evocative text describing a woman "whose forehead resembled the crescent moon, with piercing eyes like Kamadeva’s (the God of Love’s) arrows, and eyebrows like bows, whose breath was fragrant like the lotus, teeth like sweet pomegranate, a laughter as bright as lightning…body the color of gold, redolent like the earth moistened by the monsoon’s first shower." In his depiction the painter includes a crescent moon, a pomegranate, and other details of the text to reemphasize the heroine’s attributes.

Love by the Book is organized by Sharon Littlefield, former assistant curator of Indian and Himalayan Art at the Museum, and is on view in the William P. Wood Gallery, second floor. The Indian and Himalayan Art Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the most esteemed in the United States. Boasting a spectacular Pillared Temple Hall (16th century) from Southern India, the Museum is particularly strong in temple sculpture. The Museum’s diverse holdings offer a comprehensive view of South Asian art, including paintings and sculptures from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal and Tibet. The collection also includes an important group of textiles and folk arts. Major exhibitions presented by the Department of Indian and Himalayan Art in recent years include Intimate Worlds: Master Pieces of Indian Paintings from Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001).

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