Stella – ‘Star of India’ Art

Painted Delight

My wife, Lolita and I, were paying one of our not infrequent visits to Philadelphia, when we took the opportunity of – once again – visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art. [That venerable institution is one of three in the Northeast that we as a family keep on our must-see radar screen, the others being the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Boston Art Museum.]

The occasion in 1986 was the exhibition Painted Delight, a dazzling show of 138 jewel-like miniature Mughal paintings put together masterfully by the emeritus curator of Indian art, Stella Kramrisch, who was then just four months shy of 90. stellaThis was to be her last curated show; she died at her home near Philadelphia on September 2, 1993, and this posting is in memory of an incomparable scholar of international repute for more than half a century. And be it noted,  that people in India treat Stella virtually as a Star of India, a goddess. Also, the Republic of India bestowed on her its Padma Bhushan, the third highest  civilian award, in 1982.

                                                                                                               b. May 29, 1896 – d.September 2, 1993

Not to be outdone, the Smithsonian Institution in 1985 awarded her the prestigious Charles Lang Freer Medal.

Professor Kramrisch’s sterling effort was to ensure that every one of those 138 paintings on display dating from the 15th to the 19th century came from a Philadelphia collection. No wonder then that the three-month run, as part of the overall Festival of India 1986, drew attention to the fact that during Stella’s 18-year curatorial tenure, the Art Museum had become one of the leading American repositories of Indian art.

A bit of background is necessary for you to understand Professor Kramrisch’s place in the scheme of all things pertaining to the art of India, with particular focus on the life and times of the 16th century Mughal Emperor Akbar.  So here goes….Akbar

Born in Mikulov, Austria, on May 29, 1896, Stella Kramrisch was about 10 when her parents moved to Vienna. One day she came across a translation of the Bhagavadgita , (lit. “Song of the Lord”),  a 700-verse Hindu scripture in Sanskrit that is part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata.: “I was so impressed it took my breath away.” She had found what she wanted to do in her life.
She enrolled at the University of Vienna, studying Indian art, Sanskrit, anthropology and Indian philosophy, and earned her doctorate of philosophy in Vienna in 1919. When she became the first professor of Indian art at the University of Calcutta in 1923 and published “Principles of Indian Art” in 1924, Professor Kramrisch laid the foundations for the systematic study of Indian art.

She personified that in-depth study in a series of books that followed: “Indian Sculpture” (1932), “A Survey of Painting in the Deccan” (1937), “Indian Terracottas” (1939),
“The Hindu Temple” (1946) and “Arts and Crafts of Travancore” (1948).
Hindu Temple
From 1932 to 1950 the professor co-edited the Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art. From 1937 to 1941 she lectured on Indian art at the Courtauld Institute in London. In 1950 she moved to the United States, where she was both professor of South Asian art at the University of Pennsylvania, and curator of Indian art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 1964 she was appointed professor of Indian art at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.     

 The Hindu Temple Cover

Sources: Stella Kramisch, Wikipedia, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas



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