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Imperial Mughal School, India, circa 1590-1595
An illustration from the Harivamsa, gouache with silver on paper, the figure of Krishna in yellow robes holding a flute to his mouth and dancing on the head of the serpent Kaliya, while Balarama and an amazed crowd watch from the riverbank, with two cattle and cityscape in the distance, the silver of the river and of Kaliya oxidised, the reverse with lines of elegant black nasta'liq text within gold clouds, gold, blue and black ruled margins, very slight flaking in places, small tear
Miniature 7¾ x 12¾in. (29 x 32.2cm.)
with Ganeshi Lall, Cairo, from whom purchased by the father of the present owner, 29 December 1937 ($300).
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Lot Essay

The young Krishna was one day near the great river Yamuna and saw that it and its banks had been blighted by the poisonous snake Kaliya. Krishna therefore climbed into a tall tree which overhung the river and jumped in, at which the monstrous snake reared out of the water and attacked him. At first it seemed that the snake would be victorious but Balarama, having heard the commotion ran to the river and called out to the god reminding him of his divine power. Krishna recovered himself and leapt onto the head of the snake where he began to dance. Kaliya, realising that the god was more powerful than he pleaded for his life which Krishna granted on condition that went back to the sea and did not harm anybody else in future. The miniature depicts the pivotal moment in this battle with the white Balarama clearly visible, among all the stunned bystanders on the bank, pleading, and Krishna dancing with superb vitality on the snake.

The manuscript from which this comes was made in the Imperial Mughal atelier shortly after the same epic, the Harivamsa, had been completed as a part of the massive Mahabharata or Razm nama project of 1584. The patronage of these manuscripts demonstrated the emperor's interest in and tolerance of other religions in addition to Islam. We know from Abu'l Fazl in the Ain-i Akbari that the Harivamsa was translated for the Emperor by Mawlana Sheri and thus must have been finished by the time the latter died in February 1586. There is a very obvious stylistic link between the miniatures for this manuscript and those for the Razmnama. Both must have been produced within a very few years of each other
The manuscript of the Harivamsa from which this miniature comes is discussed in some detail by Robert Skelton ("Mughal Paintings from Harivamsa manuscript", Yearbook of the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2, London, 1970, pp.41-54). Milo Cleveland Beach wrote a good concise entry about the creation of the manuscript and slightly increased Skelton's listing to note twenty-seven known contemporary miniatures from it (The Imperial Image, exhibition catalogue, Washington D.C., 1981, pp.68-75). Since then some of the other miniatures have been fully published, such as the three in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Pratapaditya Pal: Indian Painting, Los Angeles, 1993, nos.48a-c, pp.198-202), that in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Joseph M. Dye III, The Arts of India, Virginia and London, 2001, no.74, pp.222-225) and that in the Chester Beattie Library, Dublin (Linda York Leach, Mughal and other Indian Paintings, London, 1995, vol.1, pp.115-117). This last entry also lists, in note 5, amendments and two additions to the list of paintings noted by Beach. Outstanding is still the question of the location of some of the twelve paintings from the manuscript mentioned by Skelton as being at one stage on the collection of A.C.Ardeshir.

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