Indian Paintings 1450 -1850
It is our great pleasure to introduce this group, rich in early Mughal and pre-Mughal paintings, many of which come from an important private collection.
Among this group are three folios from the first illustrated Baburnama (cat. 5 – 7) (also known as the V&A Baburnama), an extraordinary memoir detailing the nomadic life of the Central Asian prince Babur, displaced from his home and in search of a kingdom fit for his Timurid ancestry – an ambition realised at last with his conquest of Delhi and founding of the Mughal empire. This particular copy was an important event in itself, commissioned by Babur’s grandson Akbar and translated into Persian for the first time in the 1580s. In a sense this was a political act, an illustrated manuscript to enact the transformation of his grandfather, a man who went from being a youth exiled in poverty to the creator of an empire, into a legend of history.
Two miniatures are examples of rare pre-Mughal painting: one (cat. 2) is the work of the compelling master artist of the ‘Jainesque’ Sultanate Shahnama. Trained in the native Indian tradition yet illustrating an Islamic epic, the artist’s style is daring, innovative and confident.
‘A Princess is attended by her Women’ (cat. 8, c. 1620-30) offers an insight into the languor and luxury of the life of Mughal women at court. The image, infused with the heat and longing of summer, shows the eponymous princess gazing distractedly into the distance, while she is offered no less than fruit, a portrait of her absent lover, a foot massage, music, a hookah and a peacock!
Cat. 9 is a masterfully detailed and enchanting miniature, illustrating the Muslim festival of Shab-i-Barat, the night of deliverance from sins on which one’s fate in the coming year is to be decided by God. It is perhaps telling that so much of the energy of the Mughal art of this period (the mid-18th century), when the empire is beginning to decentralize and to decline politically and economically, can be seen to go into the lavish detailing of courtly celebration. This is reflected here in the sumptuous display of conspicuous wealth, with intricately illustrated fireworks and hanging lakeside lanterns, a gaudy elephant-shaped candelabra and attending musicians, in a scene full of opulent costumes, jewels and sweetmeats.
There are several fine and characterful Pahari paintings. Cat. 20 sees Raja Mahendra Pal of Basohli setting out for an expedition with his man ladies. In a dynamic and bold composition, they are seated (unusually for Pahari painting) on several large elephants, striding purposefully through the verdant landscape, perhaps en route to a beauty spot for an extravagant picnic.
Amongst the Pahari paintings, the divine and domestic charmingly intermingle in cats. 21 & 22. The latter depicts Siva, eyes closed and hair on end in the midst of a passion, whilst Parvati attempts to soothe him with music; in the former, Radha is poised to deliver a botanical blow to her lover Krishna with no less than a lotus stem.
I would like to thank the specialists we work with who are instrumental to our business, Gino Franchi, Mary Galloway, Will Kwiatowski, JP Losty, Helen Loveday.