Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 2:16 AM
By the 15705 Akbar had succeeded in subduing nearly all the major Rajput kingdoms and in winning over their rulers by giving them command of his armies and marrying into their families: his chief queen and Jahangir's mother was a Rajput princess from Amber. Spending long periods at the imperial court, the rajas and their sons naturally began to imitate its customs and fashions. From around i600 sonic of them employed artists trained in the Mughal studio, who worked in a hybrid style of Hindu manuscript illustration which is usually called Popular Mughal. Later in the 17th century some of the rajas were able to employ more accomplished artists, skilled in the portrait styles of the Jahangir and Shah jahan periods. These and subsequent waves of Mughal influence had varying but sometimes profound effects on the local schools of Rajasthan and Central India, each of which assimilated the new conventions in differing degrees to their existing traditions, as represented for example by Bhairavi ragini.
The closest continuation of the pre-Mughal style appears in the boldly simplified designs and colour schemes used in the schools of Malwa and Bundclkhand. In a typical ragatnala picture, Bhairava raga is depicted in the form of Krishna conversing with a lady in a pavilion flanked by stylised flowering trees. The primitive expressive power of this style is scarcely affected by the Popular Mughal influence that was reaching the Rajasthani courts. It may be contrasted with a version of the same subject, in this case more correctly conceived: as Shiva (of whom Bhairava, 'the Terrible: is an epithet), who sits under a flayed elephant skin in a royal palace attended by maids. This picture belongs to a series painted at Chunar, near Bermes, in 1591 by artists trained iii Akbar's studio. Its judicious use of figural modelling and spatial recession as well as the decorative tile-work and arabesque borders of the painting are all Akbari features. The series must have belonged at an early date to the rulers of Bundi, whose imperial service brought them at one stage to Chunar, for its iconography established a norm for later Bundi ragamalas. At other courts manuscript illustration was similarlymodified by a more dilute Popular Mughal influence; (A version of Kakubha ragini, personified as a lovelorn lady whose charms pacify the wild blackbuck, is composed in an archaic series of registers and combines old-fashioned landscape conventions with elegantly attenuated figure drawing and a row of stylised Mughal flowers at the top.
During the second half of the 17th century portraiture and genre scenes of the Mughal type were introduced at all the main courts, with varying degrees of adaptation to the Rajput vision. Jaswant Singh of Jodphur, who spent much of his life in the imperial service, chose to patronise work in a strongly Mughal style, as seen in an unfinished drawing of a durbar scene. However, in later painting at Jodphur, as elsewhere, this influence became muted and indigenous linear rhythms and colour schemes reasserted them-selves. Artists at the court of Kotah in particular brought a unique linear verve to animal subjects such as hunts and elephant fights. The tumultuous energy of the colliding beasts is evoked by fluid or densely swirling passages of line and dramatic distortions of anatomical form. This powerfully empathetic rendering can be contrasted with the flat decorativeness of the Jain painter's elephant, or with die rich colour effect and strictly naturalistic modelling of the Deccani and Mughal examples.
Even at the desert-locked court of Bikaner, where in the late 17th century migrant Muslim artist families had worked in a Mughal-derived style with some Deccani elements, Rajput conventions re-appeared within one or two generations. A picture of the autumn month of Karttik, from a Barahmasa series illustrating the activities of noble lovers during the twelve months of the year, displays a formalised composition, elongated figures and vague spatial relationships. A noble and lady stand before a pavilion with a bed-chamber; another bed is prepared on the roof. In the back-ground a couple play at chaupar, men bathe and women draw auspicious rangoli patterns on the ground:
A later and more lyrical fusion of the ardent sentiments of Hindu devotional poetry with the polished 18th century Mughal style occurred at Kishangarh, whose ruler, Savant Singh (1748-57), was himself air accomplished poet. The love sports of Krishna and Radha were depicted in palace and lakeside settings similar to those of Kishangarh, and may have been based on Savant Singh's love for a dancer at his court, with whom he eventually retired to the holy city of Brindabanput the perilously mannered sweetness of the Kishangarb style soon turned to a cloying sentimentality.
The Ranas of Mewar, who had long been regarded as the premier ruling family and the custodians of Rajput honour, had been the last to capitulate to the Mughals. During the 17th century they continued their earlier traditions of manuscript illustration in a bright and forceful style modified by some Popular Mughal influence. But from the early i8th century the Udaipur artists' best work consisted of ambitious and original paintings of court life: portraits, durbars, processions, hunts, religious festivals and zenana scenes, often of unusually large size and full of anecdotal detail. Some of the better compositions made use of architectural settings adapted from the palace buildings at Udaipur. Individual portraits of the Mughal type, showing an isolated figure seated or standing in profile, were often wooden, but a curious study of an obese courtier in a striped pink pyjama has a keen satirical edge.
The dissolution of Mughal power in the 18th century was matched by a similar decline at the courts of Rajasthan. From the 1730s they were repeatedly overrun by the Marathas from the south, who brought about a political and economic chaos that lasted until the establishment of British suzerainty in 1818. Jaipur, which had been founded close to Amber by the distinguished astronomer Raja Sawai Jai Singh (1693-1743), is said to have reached depths of turpitude and intrigue exceptional even in an age of general decadence. But painting continued under its own inherent momentum. The Jaipur artists were much influenced by the hard contemporary style of Delhi and Lucknow. Even so, a hackneyed subject of a lady at her toilet could be transformed into a classically Rajput image by the accentuated outline drawing of the face and figure and the contrast of unmodelled flesh and background areas with the detail of jewellery, textile patterns and a flower gardefik A more ebullient late phase of Rajasthani painting occurred at Kotah under Rao Ram Singh (1827-65), who is seen passing in procession through a bazaar, entertained as he rides by a nautch girl supported on his elephant's tusks If this picture lacks the kinetic force of the earlier elephant fight, it still has much charm and panache. Already, however, a harsh synthetic green colour is in use. During the second half of the-19th century traditional painting either succumbed or was radically changed by the impact of Western techniques and the sensational art of photography.
Writer – Andrew Topsfield