Volume 68 Number 2, December 2016
A Magic World: New Visions of Indian Painting
|Specifications:||132 pages, 130 illustrations|
|Dimensions:||305 x 241 mm|
In the 100 years since Ananda Coomaraswamy wrote his seminal Rajput Painting, the field of Indian painting studies has gone from a period of explosive discovery to a deepening of knowledge about individual artists and workshops. More recently, scholars have also begun to probe artists’ and patrons’ creative decisions and have entered into extensive conversation with South Asian cultural studies in general. They reconsider Coomaraswamy’s distinction between “Rajput” and Mughal painting and focus more on the connections between these two worlds, analyzing the complex meanings these paintings might have held for their artists, patrons and viewers.
This celebratory volume probes the cultural preoccupations of 16th- to early 20th-century Rajput, Mughal and Deccan India,and provides delightful new insights into the magic world of Indian painting.
Molly Emma Aitken is Associate Professor in the Art Department at the City College of New York and the Art History Department at the CUNY Graduate Center. She has published extensively on Mughal and Rajput painting.
Molly Emma Aitken
Giant Butterfly, Tiny Tree: Leaps of Scale in Deccani Painting
Navina Najat Haidar
Congress of Kings: Notes on a Painting of Muhammad Shah Rangeela Having Sex
Portraits of “A Noble Queen”: Chand Bibi in the Historical Imaginary
A Tale of Two Mediums: Paint and Photography in Udaipur
Jagvilasa: Picturing Worlds of Pleasure and Power in 18th-Century Udaipur Painting
Cosmic Sympathies and Painting at Akbar’s Court
Holi in the Zenana: Genre, Style and Sociability
Artistic Agency in Painted Narratives: The Case of the Chandayan Manuscripts
The chapter opens with a discussion of Coomaraswamy’s two seminal Rajput Painting volumes which had made an impassioned case for acknowledging South Asia’s visual arts as fine arts worthy to rival the European canon. Since 1916, scholars have refined the categories originally defined by Coomaraswamy, keeping in mind new styles that have emerged and new evidence that has rendered chronologies more accurate. The chapter acknowledges how in order to escape the limits of categorization it becomes important to think creatively about styles that were in dynamic flux. It introduces readers to the essays in the volume which celebrate Coomaraswamy’s interpretative ambitions and are written by scholars with a diversity of perspectives and trainings who rethink categories and provoke new questions about meaning and ontology.
When Indian paintings depict Rajput kings in love-play, they are said to symbolize civilizational ideals. Similar depictions of Mughal rulers are described as historic records that attest to the dissolute character of the king. This chapter crosses the boundary between these interpretive frameworks as it speculates upon the many possible meanings of a famous painting of emperor Muhammad Shah (r. 1719–48) engaged in sexual congress with a woman. Rather than the record of a private act, this painting is a formal portrait related to imperial jharokha portraits. It also relates to poetry and music at Muhammad Shah’s court and may have a connection to erotological literature of the time. It asserts Muhammad Shah’s virility in the face of speculations about his failing health. The painting thus operates on multiple levels, and is as symbolic as it is historic.
In his essay, “Status of Indian Women,” Coomaraswamy reproduces an 18th-century painting of the Deccan queen, Chand Bibi, hawking. The subject matter is a common one in later painting: the 16th-century queen, remembered for defending Ahmednagar against the Mughals, is repeatedly depicted riding a horse through the countryside with a hawk balanced on one hand. Indeed, the imagery is so standardized and ubiquitous in 18th-century painting that art historians have paid it scant attention. But is Chand Bibi’s depiction really so straightforward and banal? If the defense of Ahmednagar is the event for which she is remembered, why are there no paintings of her in battle? Why does she emerge as a subject for painting a century after she lived? Who comprised their original audience? And how have these paintings, which circulated throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, shaped what we might classify as a “shared historical imaginary” of the early modern Deccan? This chapter investigates such questions through close formal and contextual readings of depictions of Chand Bibi.
Through a close study of two painted portraits of Udaipur rulers, this chapter reconsiders painted photographs in the arena of court painting during the 19th and 20th centuries. One is a painted photograph and the other is a painting made to look like a painted photograph. By exploring the circumstances in which the portraits were produced, their political purpose, and a history of photography in the Rajput courts, the chapter argues that painted photographs were not separate from the trajectory of Indian painting, but firmly set within it. The portraits in question show how photography and a photographic aesthetic became one among many tools in the painter’s toolbox. Coomaraswamy’s seminal 1916 study on Rajput painting does not mention painted photographs despite their ample production during the time he was writing. Nevertheless, he leaves room for the consideration of painted photography within a history of Indian painting in surprising ways.
This chapter questions Ananda Coomaraswamy’s implication that aesthetics developed for historicizing and idealizing imagery in Indian paintings were mutually exclusive. It does so through a close look at 18th-century Udaipur paintings that depict the pleasures of courtly society. Poetic and pictorial representations of Jagnivas lake-palace on Udaipur’s Lake Pichola together created an emotionally colored “world of pleasure” that brought politically powerful connoisseurs together. The chapter views paintings and poetry as associated practices that, as a corpus, performed a critical presentational role in courtly spaces at a historical juncture when Jagnivas was built in the city. Pleasure emerges as a tenet of ideal kingship and as integral to the personal and political bonds, social lives and ethical selves, and knowledge and histories, that comprised courtly communities of early modern India.
This chapter considers the talismanic function of Mughal painting, focusing on a little-studied illustrated astrological manuscript created at Akbar’s court in the 1580s, and now housed in the Rampur Raza Library. It argues that the manuscript as a whole was conceived as an agentive instrument, and one that the emperor likely put to use in collective, rather than in individual, contexts to advance his status as a cosmic ruler. These findings bear on the larger study of Mughal painting, for they highlight the pressing need to adopt new disciplinary approaches that can account for hitherto unacknowledged talismanic uses of images.
From the vantage point of the present day, in which Holi and Vaishnava sensibilities are thoroughly entwined in northern India, one would expect the earliest Holi representations to appear within Krishnaite devotional paintings or Rajput illustrated Ragamalas. Holi-play however entered the visual realm from a Mughal painting of Jahangir’s zenana rather than from a Hindu court, and as a refined pleasure rather than as village festivity. Tracing the motif of sensuously entwined Holi-playing princesses from the early 17th through the mid-18th centuries and across Mughal, Rajasthani and Deccani courts reveals the irreducible interconnectivity of Indo-Islamic and Rajput court culture and imagery. This chapter also examines how artists negotiated and localized generic parameters through brushwork: the application of Holi colour is here considered not only as an element of style but also as a conscious rumination on the act of painting.
The Chandayan manuscripts entered the corpus of Indian painting several decades after the influential Rajput Painting publication, but Coomaraswamy’s work played an implicit role in their reception and understanding. While long-acknowledged as important in the history of Indian painting, the Chandayan has fallen between the cracks of categorizations such as Mughal and Rajput, Indian and Persian, literature and art history. Written in 1379, the Chandayan survives in five fragmentary, extensively illustrated copies. Each manuscript has a distinctive artistic style, yet the paintings share a familial resemblance. How do we account for that? Occasionally pragmatic, inventive, or conventional, and selectively drawing on different traditions, the paintings create a distinctive mood for each manuscript, make a different impact on their readers, and tell a familiar story afresh. Through looking closely at select paintings, this chapter explores the agency of theChandayan’s artists who subjectively interpret the writer’s words.