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Earthly Gods and Heavenly Kings: Painting Royalty and Divinity in India

January 22–October 15, 2000

Although they exist in different domains, both gods and kings are perceived within Indian tradition as guardians of the cosmic order. Without divine and royal rule, chaos—represented by rampant wilderness and the supremacy of demons—would ensue. In art and literature, gods and kings often share distinctive characteristics.

This exhibition of works from the museum’s permanent collection explores not only the varied roles of royalty and divinity in India, but also the intriguingly blurred boundaries between the two. The paintings and drawings on view, dating from between the late sixteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, come from workshops at the courts of the great Mughals, the proud Rajput rulers of northern India, and the Sultans of the south-central Deccan region. They include stately portraits of halo-crowned kings and intricate depictions of royal activities: hunt and harem, feast and festival, war and worship. Earthly images of gods mirror princely ones. Divinities are depicted as kings, whether fighting demons, riding elephants, or enthroned in regal splendor. At times, such as in the wonderful painting Maharao Bhim Singh of Kota Attends Krishna as Brijnathji—attributed to the eighteenth-century Kota Master—the heavenly and royal realms coalesce: god and king appear together in a common sphere of perfect order.

Main Building


Darielle Mason, Stella Kramrisch Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art

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