Krishna and Radha

Artist/maker unknown, Indian

Made in Nurpur, Himachal Pradesh, India, Asia
or Mankot, Himachal Pradesh, India, Asia

c. 1700-1720

Opaque watercolor, gold, and silver-colored paint on paper

Image: 9 1/4 × 6 3/16 inches (23.5 × 15.7 cm) Sheet: 11 1/2 × 8 7/16 inches (29.2 × 21.4 cm)

Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Alvin O. Bellak Collection, 2004

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Krishna and his love Radha are captured in a warm, intimate embrace. As they gaze deeply into each other's eyes, each tenderly toys with the other's pearl necklace. By framing them in an elaborate, silver balcony window, the artist simultaneously puts them on display and invites the viewer into their serene world. The figures' unusually large scale makes the embrace all the more accessible, as if the viewer is not only witnessing the interaction of human and divine, but also participating in that union.

Additional information:
  • PublicationIntimate Worlds: Indian Paintings from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection

    A thick red border frames a silver oriel that acts as a second frame to hold an exceptionally large image of Krishna and Radha embracing.1 They are depicted as if sitting in a balcony window, with only their upper torsos and heads visible. The oriel, covered in a variety of floral scrolls created in impasto, is composed of a front ledge with border, resembling a carpet or other woven textile hung over a railing, and foliage-topped fluted pilasters on which rests a wide arch. The background of the interior is dark green.

    Krishna and Radha gaze at one another, her left arm around his shoulders, his right out of sight around her waist. Her right hand, overlapping the front ledge, fondles his pearl necklace as he fondles hers behind the parapet. Krishna wears an orange jama, elaborate ornaments, and a mauve-colored cap with single peacock feather plume tied by a double white fabric band twisted with gold. This gold textile, ornamented with flowers, hangs from the back of the cap, and a gold and pearl pin depends from the band at his forehead. Around his neck is a floral garland known as a vanamala, traditionally made of five kinds of wildflowers, which refers to Krishna as Vanamali, or He Who Wears a Garland of Wildflowers.2 Krishna’s forehead is marked with a gold Vaishnava tilik; his neck and the side of his eye also bear devotional body markings.

    Radha wears a diaphanous blouse of the same mauve, a color particularly popular in the Mankot workshop. Her breasts and nipples clearly show through its swirling shading. Although the neckband is high and ornamented, the blouse itself reaches only partway down her chest to leave her young breasts provocatively exposed, as if they have outgrown the garment. The sleeves are short, and the right one forms an elegantly continuous arch with the bottom line of the blouse. She wears a wide cuff bracelet and bands low on her upper arms. Her head is covered with a yellow floral scarf, placed far back to reveal her ear and long hair. Around the rim of the ear she wears a series of small earrings, a jewelry form rare in the Pahari region but relatively common in neighboring Kashmir. The gold mark (tilik) on her forehead, in the shape of a crescent moon with a teardrop, denotes her Shakta (Goddess) affiliation. Her hands are very small, with the fingers darkly hennaed from the knuckles. Her wrists curve as if lacking this joint.

    The faces of the couple have large, heavy chins marked off from the neck by light shading; extremely high foreheads that curve into a shadowy hairline almost at the center of the skulls; tiny pursed mouths that abut the long, pointed noses. The cheeks are pouchy; large eyes are curved below and nearly straight above, with corners that are red-pink like lotus leaves; pupils are placed about a third of the way back from the nose; eyelids have heavy double creases; and brows are painted in a single flourish from nose to hairline. These features, although here enlarged to unusual size, link the painting with works from Mankot and neighboring Nurpur. The predilection in works from Nurpur, such as three early Rasamanjari sets (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-25), for pursed mouths and women with such small, high breasts, makes this origin likely. In addition, the impasto technique used to ornament the silver oriel appears to have been particularly popular in workshops at Mankot, Nurpur, and Chamba.3 Darielle Mason, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 100-101.

    1. The painting was formerly in the collection of Svetoslav Roerich, son of the painter Nicholas Roerich (1874–1947).
    2. B. N. Goswamy, personal communication, 2000.
    3. Amy G. Poster (in Amy G. Poster et al. Realms of Heroism: Indian Paintings at the Brooklyn Museum. Exh. cat. Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum in association with Hudson Hills Press, 1994, pp. 246–48, no. 200) speculated that a similar image with a raised frame in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum (37.122) might have been used as an icon or set into an architectural framework. The presence of a long poetic verse on the back of this painting, however, seems to suggest that such images could have been used to illustrate literary series. While the inscription here agrees in format with the verses of the Satasai of Bihari (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-66), it is as yet unidentified.