Wooden figure of Krishna

South India, probably the Tanjore region of Tamil Nadu, around 1780

This image of the youthful god Krishna shows him playing the flute. This is one of the god's most recognisable forms and calls to mind the metaphorical use made in Krishna devotion of the sweet music of the flute to help the human soul achieve communion with the godhead. For many centuries Krishna has been one of the most popular Indian deities, with a well developed cult in southern India.

The tradition of carving in wood is connected in southern India with the carvings made for the ratha, or temporary and mobile temples, which are drawn through the streets by devotees during festivals. Although closely related to the ratha type of sculpture, this image and others were probably made as examples of Indian deities for the collector and enthusiast for India, David Simpson. Simpson's sale in London in 1792 was one of the first at which collectors such as Charles Townley (1737-1805) could acquire examples of Indian sculpture and paintings.

This was one of a dozen wooden carvings of Hindu deities that Townley collected. He later employed the Baron d'Hancarville to catalogue his sculpture collection. Like other writers, d'Hancarville believed that all religions sprang from one ancient belief system. He argued that the strongest clues to this ancient system could be found in Asian religions, particularly in certain Indian cults which, he believed, expressed ideas of generation and creation in their images.

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More information


K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)

P. Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters: A hist (University of Chicago Press, 1992)

M. Clarke and N. Penny (eds), The arrogant connoisseur: Rich, exh. cat. (Whitworth Art Gallery, 1982)


Height: 49.400 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1805.7-3.475


Gift of Charles Townley


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