[Chore Bagan Art Studio Lithographs]. Amar Nath SHAHA.
[Chore Bagan Art Studio Lithographs]
[Chore Bagan Art Studio Lithographs]
[Chore Bagan Art Studio Lithographs]
[Chore Bagan Art Studio Lithographs]
[Chore Bagan Art Studio Lithographs]
Early Indian ‘Gods & Goddesses’ Lithographs
Printed at the Calcutta Press of Chore Bagan Art Studio
Preserved in a Contemporary Binding from Palma de Mallorca
Calcutta, Chore Bagan Art Studio, c. 1880s

[Chore Bagan Art Studio Lithographs].

Folio [40.1 x 30.4 cm], (5) full-page single-sided lithographs. Half bound in contemporary red silk and red buckram, pink floral printed endpapers, bookbinder’s label inside upper cover (Amengual y Muntaner, Taller de Encuadernaciones, Palma). Minor rubbing to boards and board edges; negligible cropping of several manuscript titles at top margins; very minor color residue in some margins from printing process. Lithographs perfectly preserved, with strong, vibrant colors; contemporary manuscript labels in English in upper margin of each lithograph.

Rare suite of 5 late-nineteenth-century ‘Gods & Goddesses’ lithographs from the Calcutta press of Chore Bagan Art Studio, here remarkably preserved in a contemporary binding from Palma de Mallorca. The volume, with its lithographs neatly captioned in English in a contemporary hand, is extraordinary both for the excellent condition of its prints and as an important witness to how such prints travelled and were collected far from their intended audience on the Indian subcontinent. Surviving examples of early ‘God-prints’, which were sold in the open air and meant to be displayed in the home, seldom retain their original vibrant colors, making the present examples – depicting the gods Krishna, Kali, Ganesh, Shiva, and Parvati, among others – all the more unusual.

Small-scale pictorial ‘icons’ of figures and scenes from the Hindu pantheon were avidly sold in the commercial bazaars and temple precincts of major Indian cities, and until the final quarter of the 19th century, these images were overwhelmingly produced using woodblock printing or a rapid painting technique perfected by artists in the Kalighat school. “In the latter half of the nineteenth century, pioneer artists and entrepreneurs in the urban centers of colonial India began to recognize the commercial potential of using technologies of mechanical reproduction to create new religious images for popular consumption. The first two major publishers of god-prints, the Calcutta Art Studio and Chitrashala Press, were both established in 1878, in Bengal and Maharashtra respectively. In Calcutta the inexpensive prints of the Calcutta Arts Studio soon outcompeted the hand-painted works of the Kalighat artists” (Davis, p. 3). “Other Calcutta presses are less known,” among them the Oriental Studio, Jubilee Art Studio, and the Chore Bagan Art Studio: “The most successful of these at competing with the Calcutta Art Studio was the Chore Bagan Art Studio, which was founded in the 1880s by Amarnath Shah [whose name is seen here at the foot of the Ganesh lithograph] and which continued into the early twentieth century. Prints from these firms are quite rare, and in most cases we have no more information than the Calcutta addresses of these short-lived presses” (Davis, p. 7).

“Chore Bagan issued a range of designs paralleling those of the Calcutta Art Studio and including the Disrobing of Draupadi, images of Kali and the battle between Rama and Ravana, hieratic depictions of Sarasvati and Krishna, and the ecstatic followers of Chaitanya” (Pinney, p. 27). The present volume contains images of Krishna & Radha (labeled in English as ‘God Krishna & his wife’), Kali standing atop Shiva (‘Hindu Goddess Kali’), Ganesha seated (‘God Ganesh del.’), Krishna dancing on the snake-demon Kaliya and surrounded by the naginis (‘God Krishna’), and Shiva and Parvati riding a bull (captioned in English as ‘Mohadel & his wife’).

Such was the commercial impact of lithographic God-prints in India, that from the 1890s European printing firms, principally in Germany, England and Italy, produced these traditional Hindu scenes in great quantities for export back to the subcontinent (see Davis, pp. 65-81). The present volume carries a contemporary binder’s label from the publishing house of Amengual y Muntaner in Palma de Mallorca, and perhaps these prints found their way to the Mediterranean island not as curiosities of a returning traveler, but as models intended for large-scale reproduction in Palma. Bound volumes of Hindu gods & goddesses from this era are very rare, and we have located only one other example containing prints from the Chore Bagan Art Studio, a volume housed at the British Museum and containing some 45 prints, each similarly captioned in English in a contemporary hand.


* R. Davis, Gods in Print: Masterpieces of India’s Mythological Art, esp. pp. 42-50, nos. 32-40; C. Pinney, “Photos of the Gods”: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India; K. Jain, Gods in the Bazaar: The Economies of Indian Calendar Art; L. A. Babb & S. S. Wadley, Media and Transformation of Religion in South Asia; G. L. Larson, P. Pal & H. D. Smith, Changing Myths and Images: Twentieth-Century Popular Art in India; P. Mitter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India; R. H. Davis, Picturing the Nation: Iconographies of Modern India.

Price: $5,000.00

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