Textile Traditions of India

Kantha, or “patched cloth” embroidery. Cotton threads on cotton; 168 cm x 110 cm. West Bengal. c. late 19th century. 81/6331.

Bengal is renowned for its kantha embroidery on patched cloth, in which the quilted surface is executed in running stitch with threads recycled from old saris.

This particular kantha is unique for its imagery and workmanship. Like any conventional kantha it has floral borders, paisley motifs in the four corners and a central lotus medallion. But the images in the main field depict a highly individualistic and sensitive world view. We have here all the symbols of 19th century Calcutta: a currency note, European-type playing cards, sahibs and memsahibs, chandeliers, medallions of Queen Victoria, memorial busts of Marwari seths or wealthy men, the facade of the Universal Medical Hall, side by side with scenes from Hindu mythology in which Shiva looks like a Madonna in a Christian painting, and Rama and Lakshmana appear as European boys.

The spaces between the characters and images are filled with delicately-embroidered creepers occasionally intercepted by a butterfly or a dragonfly.

The outline of all the figures is embroidered with a very fine single black thread, whose movement is so well controlled that the “drawing” appears as if done in ink.

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