Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur

The first few rooms, some earlier maharajas, are beautiful work but a tedious fantasy world: the maharaja seated amidst endless rows of identical ladies in his garden. Or perhaps it wasn't even fantasy... But they do have fun at Holi, the maharaja and his endless cohorts letting off steam by squirting coloured water at each other, and the artist had a good time, too: having painted the scene meticulously, he splashed paint all over it.

Then we come to Maharaha Man Singh. While still a child he was deprived of his kingdom by an evil uncle. He was kept in hiding by loyal supporters, but the difficulties of this weighed on him, and he decided to give himself up. That night in a vision, the story goes, the founder of the Naths appeared and advised him to wait a few days. In those few days the uncle died and Man Singh inherited his kingdom. The Naths were - still are - an order of yogis, reknown for fierce determination and unswerving discipline in meditation. Many stories are told about their mental powers. In person they can be intimidating. Not a good idea to fool with the Naths.

These events obviously changed Man Singh's life, and this is reflected in his court paintings, which tend to feature identical Naths rather than identical ladies. But at a certain stage Man Singh instructed his artists to turn their attention to metaphysical issues. There are a lot of painted images relating to Indian 'myths' and Ajit Mukherjee has published impressive books of paintings of tantric diagrams, but for the most part they are diagrams.

The imagination of Man Singh's artists was wildly challenged when it came to depicting the arising of existence out of nothingness, and they found extraordinary solutions. There are several triptychs reading left to right: the left showing just burnished gold, the centre showing partly formed images, with the final painting on the right. There are a number of wonderful depictions of the body-as-universe, as it is in tantric thought. And finally there is a room of long paintings of figures floating in a sea of pattern. Utterly strange and mysterious. & most of the paintings are big. Nothing miniature in size or concept in the paintings on show.


msHedgehog said...

I thought about going to see this but didn't get around to it. I love the happy elephants on the publicity picture but I had a feeling that might be the best thing in it. The metaphysical ones sound good though.

Tangocommuter said...

It's still on, and there's more to it than the elephants! Interesting,
and unusually big paintings.