Woman with Serpents

Date: 1909
Media: Wax paints on canvas
Dimensions: 213.8 x 106.7 cm
Ownership: State Russian Museum, St Petersburg
Received in 1944 from the Inspectorate for the Protection of Monuments, Leningrad
Style: Symbolism
Nikolai Kalmakov, Woman with Serpents, 1909


This exotic and suggestive painting, with its fantastic ornamental design, is a typical example of the oeuvre of Nikolai Kalmakov in the late 1900s and early 1910s. Oriental mythology was a common theme in the artist’s works.

This particular work possibly depicts the Hindu goddess Kali. A fierce and terrifying aspect of Devi, Kali was the consort of Shiva and the personification of the formidable and destructive aspect of his divine energy.

At the end of a kalpa or periodical life cycle, Kali shrouds the world in darkness, contributing to its destruction. Kali means “the black one” in Sanskrit and can be both a devouring, destructive goddess and a benevolent patroness.

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