Ladies Celebrating Diwali

What are they doing? What’s happening in this dark and mysterious scene? The full moon broods over several women holding lights or sparklers over their heads, much as revelers in the U.S. do on the 4th of July. In the distance, jets of fireworks illuminate the night sky. In the middle distance, pleasure seekers watch the fireworks from boats on the river, exactly as they do on the Vermilion River in our town on the 4th of July,

Ladies Celebrating Diwali, tempera, 1760, Northern India

Ladies Celebrating Diwali, tempera, 1760, Northern India

The gold fireworks are rendered with considerable charm, if somewhat naively. Like La Dounaier Rousseau, the artist paints what he knows, not what he sees. (Note to self: this seeming dichotomy does not exist.)

I studied this small tempera painting (a mere 8″ x 9″) during each of my last two visits to the Cleveland Museum of Art. The remarkable thing about it, in addition to its mysterious light and subject, is its sense of depth and space. It feels monumental which is remarkable given its small size.

A quick web search reveals that the autumnal Diwali festival, or festival of lights, celebrates the victory of light over darkness.  The painting was done in Northern India in the mid- late-eighteenth century. The artist’s name is not given.

[The work is owned by the Cleveland Museum of Art; photo is mine]

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