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    Unusual South Indian Terracotta Infant Krishna

    19th century

    height (including stand): 38.5cm, weight: 2,962g



    UK art market

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    This very unusual terracotta image of the deity Krishna. the eighth and most widely venerated avatar of Vishnu,  is very realistically rendered and most probably was modelled on a real infant’s face and body with its natural pudginess.

    The image has been modelled with ample South Indian-style jewellery including a garland of rose blooms, but otherwise is naked. On the reverse, the infant’s hair is tied on a long plait which falls down his back and away over the shapely left buttock.

    The skin has remnants of blue ochre – a defining characteristic of Krishna who is usually portrayed with blue skin.

    The portrayal of Krishna as an infant marks this image out as being from South India. Krishna’s mischievous playfulness and miraculous deeds during his childhood have long been celebrated in  South India. The use of terracotta is unusual but suggests a provenance to India’s south-east corner. (Terracotta was used widely in the area to make large, jewelled images of horses to venerate the deity Aiyanar.)   The realistic rendering suggests colonial influence in how statues of deities began to be depicted. The composition suggests perhaps French colonial influence and this would thus imply that the image might be from the Pondicherry region of South India, Pondicherry being a French colonial outpost in southern India that is surrounded by Tamil Nadu.

    The image’s naturistically modelled form, the slight naughty smirk, and the joyful direct engagement with the viewer make this representation particularly charming.

    The image has obvious, old losses but is in a stable condition. A small metal wire loop that emerges from Krishna’s back suggests that the image might have been suspended.

    The image is mounted on a custom-made, black metal stand.


    Pal, P., Art from the Indian Subcontinent: Asian Art at the Simon Norton Museum, Volume 1, Yale University Press, 2003.

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