Gum tempera on paper
Image: 15.2 x 10 cm (6 x 3 15/16 in.); Overall: 20.5 x 15 cm (8 1/16 x 5 7/8 in.)
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Sherman E. Lee 1967.241
Sherman E. Lee, who was the director of the Cleveland Museum of Art from 1958 until 1983, and his wife Ruth donated this painting.
The anonymous court artist from a Hindu kingdom in the foothills of the Himalaya mountains has chosen a web of concentric abstract shapes to represent the cosmic ocean as the backdrop for this elegant, striking composition. The sage Markandeya received the dubious gift of immortality, so even after the destruction and dissolution of the world and all its creatures, he must carry on exhausted and alone through the cosmic ocean until the next world cycle begins. At one point in the darkness he saw a branch from a banyan tree floating on the ocean’s surface, and with awe he saw the infant Krishna on one leaf, sucking his toe. When Markandeya looked into his mouth, he saw the entire universe as it was and as it will be. This story and imagery shows that with the destruction of the universe comes the infancy of evolution, and creation will begin anew.
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