May 12, 2021

Divine Prints from India

         Today I have some block prints for you from India, and they have a wonderful variety of rich texture.  This first shows Krishna going across the river with a group of his devotees in a magnificent boat.  From the beautiful peacock-headed prow to the elephant head at the stern, the entire craft is gorgeously decorated.  The pavilion in which Rādhā sits has elaborate architecture surmounted by a lovely pennant, and all the clothes are richly decorated with patterns and textures.  Each of the fish below has a different pattern of scales, and large butterflies flutter all about.  This is a metal block print, which means that these patterns were probably created with punches rather than having to be individually carved.  (You can read an intro to metalcuts here.)  Metalcuts often have large areas of black with repeated patterns, which I really like.  It is somewhat unusual to have large white areas like the background in this piece.
        The second piece shows Shiva seated beneath a tree, while his wife Bhagabatī is shown twice, once in the doorway holding one son, and again outside the building holding the other son.  I find it particularly interesting that the building has a European neoclassical style, as opposed to the more Mughal-style roof of the boat’s pavilion in the first piece.  I don’t know enough to be able to hypothesize on what this says about the intended audience of this piece, in terms of the fashions favored by different groups in India in the early nineteenth century, but it surely says something!  Although this piece is listed as a woodcut, its style is so similar to the first, in the use of repeated punch patterns on the saris, and in the style of the women’s faces, that I can’t help but question that.
        The same goes for the third piece, where we’re back to Krishna and Rādhā surrounded by their companions, and more of the same large, beautiful butterflies.  The couple is being sprayed with something, and I would love to know whether it’s perfume, or whether they are being fumigated with pesticide!  There are a few other insects buzzing about, and some of the women seem distressed about something, so clearly something is going on.  I tried to find out when these spray pumps might have been invented, but I couldn’t find any sort of history about them at all, alas.  Anyway, all the detailed patterns on the fabrics and floor covering are magnificent, and required great skill and precision to create.  The artists of all these pieces are anonymous.
        The information about these pieces is quite sparse - there doesn’t seem to be anything about exactly when or where they were made, let alone the name of an artist.  Nevertheless, I find them very pleasing.  I would love to be able to make fine patterns like these, but unfortunately it’s a unique trait of metalcuts and just doesn’t work on either wood or rubber.  (Although it occurs to me that it might be worth experimenting with linoleum…  Hmmm…)

[Pictures: Krishna and the Gopis crossing the River Jumna, metal-cut print, India, early 19th century (Image from The British Museum);

Bhagabatī and Śiva, wood- or metal-cut print, Calcutta, late 19th century (Image from The British Museum);

Krishna and Rādhā, wood- or metal-cut print, India, 19th century (Image from The British Museum).]


Anstice Brown said...

Wow! These are so beautiful and detailed. Thank you for sharing what you could find out about them.

Rob Z Tobor said...

Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I never made it to the A to Z this year. I always try to do something interesting for it, but I just did not have time this year.

I guess the nature of blogging is that some years you can be on top of it and others, time and other things result in blogging getting left rather more than we would like. Certainly I have just not had as much time in the last 12 months.

But the wheel turns so maybe next year I will be back, in the meantime I am drawing a lot more and have plans for the garden.

Keep up the good work with your own blog, it is always very impressive.