The installation of 23 painting, textiles, and sculptures from the Museum's collection will be on view in the Museum's Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for the Arts of South and Southeast Asia through July 28, 2008. Most of the paintings on display are manuscript pages produced in Rajasthan and the Punjab Hills, illustrating popular events from Krishna's life. The textiles were employed to enhance shrines devoted to Krishna.
The earliest depictions of Krishna date from the late Kushan–Gupta period (circa third to fourth century) and show him as a youthful, martial warrior-king, the slayer of demons. Krishna came to be identified as the supreme destroyer of tyranny in the world and protector of the people. Already by the seventh century, Krishna had become the focus of newly emerging devotional cultures (bhakti), in which salvation was reached through personal identification with the deity. It is his essential human nature that allowed such a close identification by devotees.
The life of Krishna is widely represented in Hindu art, from the infant and mischievous child to divine love r and staunch protector of the good. Each guise allowed devotees a different path to bond with their god.
Narrative painters explored most fully the worshippers' love for their god in the context of Krishna's amorous relationship with his favorite consort, Radha. Often the couple is depicted expressing the fullness of their passion in a secluded wooded glad, typically with flowers in bloom, as seen in several versions from Rajasthan and Malwa. Another popular scene, illustrated by a folio from the famous 1560 Bhagavata Purana manuscript from Delhi and another version of the subject from Bikander (ca. 1610), is that of the youthful Krishna stealing the clothes of female cowherds (gopis) while they are bathing in a river, illustrating his amorous nature and his capacity to extend a personal and individual relationship to each devotee.
The setting for many of these works is Vrindavan, a small village near Mathura on the Yamuna River in northern India, where Krishna was fostered for safety, hidden away from a jealous ruler who threatened his life. Vrindavan became a center of Krishna devotionalism, and remains today a major pilgrimage center for Vaishnavite devotees.
A centerpiece of the exhibition is a superb copper alloy sculpture of the infant Krishna being nursed by his foster-mother Yashoda, and a spectacular painted gold and silver temple hanging demonstrates the power of bhakti. Much of this installation focuses on Krishna's essentially human nature, but his divine status is underscored by the Mughal masterpiece Krishna lifting Mt. Govardana, from the imperial illustrated Harivamsa manuscript, produced in the atelier of the Emperor Akbar around 1590. -- www.metmuseum.org