You may be wondering, “where can I find an artwork with mermaids, half elephant/half fish creatures, a shipwreck, deities a flambé, and a people-eating fish?” Right here on Art Class Curator! And in Thailand. Well, no. It’s in a museum in Baltimore. Look at this.
When I was flipping through looking for art for this series, this one caught me eye because the more you look at, the more crazy-cool you notice. When I started to write, I was sad to see there was no information about this artwork on the museum’s site. It’s just this magical piece with amazing colors, images, patterns, and stories. I kind of like having no information about it, honestly, because it’s fun to make your own meaning about works of art
sometimes all the time.
This picture is also a little fuzzy, which is unfortunate. Head over to the Walters Art Museum’s website and click “Explore Object.” You can zoom in a bit more to get a closer look. It is not a lot better.
This is a painting on cloth, and it is full of bold colors, detailed textures, striking patterns, overlapping, and narrative details. To me, this painting looks like and Indian narrative painting, so I wasn’t surprised when I did a little searching to find out that Jataka refers (in the title) refers to a body of literature from India about the previous lives of the Buddha.
The story of Mahajanaka can be found online as well (see links in resources). Long story short, Prince Mahajanaka was on a trade ship. The ship began to sink after seven days but Mahajanaka kept his wits about him, ate a nice hearty meal, and then tied himself to the mast of the boat. When the ship started to sink, sea life feasted on the men and animals from the boat, but Mahajanaka remained protected up on the mast. He then threw himself away from the ship with his super powerful strength and escaped the hungry sea life. He floated in the ocean for seven days showing perseverance and strong will. After seven days, he was rescued by a goddess of the sea who noticed that he was an important prince.
There is more to the story, but I think that’s enough for you to figure out what’s happening in the artwork. Super, super cool. I love it.
Art Discussion Questions
- What’s going on here? What is the story being told?
- How does this artist use color, line, space, and texture?
- What elements of this painting are strange?
- How can you tell who the important people are?
Art Narrative Learning Activities
Check out my past post on Exploring Narrative through Art. The activities discussed in that post would work well with this artwork.
More Resources and Citations
Here are some sites that tell the story of
- Twitter Perspectives*
- Write a Letter*
- 4 Steps of Art Criticism*
- Exploring Place*
- Send a postcard
- 5Ws and H
- “I am” Character Poem
- Formal Analysis-Elements of Art.
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