Arts of Asia

Portrait of a Standing Rajah at Hunt, ca. 1800
India, Rajasthan
Opaque color on paper
12 1/2 x 9 inches
Gift of George P. Bickford 1975-12-6

Rajput painting from the Rajputana or Rajasthan area of India was first differentiated from paintings created under the Mughal Empire (early-sixteenth to mid-nineteenth century) by the scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy in the early twentieth century. The Mughals were responsible for creating a new school of painting that was influenced by the engravings in the bibles that arrived with Jesuit missionaries in 1549.

Hindu and Muslim artists of the Mughal style adopted from these prints the concept of perspective, among other conventions, which had been lost in Indian painting since the second-century BCE Ajanta cave paintings in west-central India. Artists commissioned by rajas ("kings") also assimilated into their work the Mughal symbols of royalty. The pose and position of the raja became hieratic, as seen in this painting. Here, the raja at the left is prominently placed and larger than the other figures. Most rajas were worshipers of Vishnu and equated themselves with the god. The golden-ringed nimbus behind the raja's head denoting this status was originally a symbol borrowed by the Mughals from images of western saints.

Portraiture such as this is not found in Mewar painting of Rajasthan before 1670. The raja in this painting stands in the foreground smoking a huqqa after the hunt while his servants kill two birds that the falcon has brought down. The falcon and its keeper, whose beard strap and turban identify him as a Sikh, are nearby. Time has been condensed. The raja is depicted twice, at two different moments in the story—in the foreground and also in the background to the upper right where, on horseback, he follows his dogs in their pursuit of two boars and four frightened deer. Behind him in the background are the keeper and falcon and a courtier holding an umbrella. The figures all wear green camouflage clothing suitable for a hunt, perhaps reflecting British influence in India.

Text by Barbara H. Friedell, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008

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