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Emperor Muhammad Shah with Four Courtiers, Smoking a Huqqah

Attributed to Chitarman II (Kalyan Das) Indian

Not on view

Chitarman’s preference for orderly and often symmetrical compositions with architecture limited to white and shades of gray is clearly visible in this scene depicting his patron Muhammad Shah, seen here smoking a (hookah) water pipe. Four notable courtiers, identified by inscription as Khan Dauran, Qamaruddin Khan, Raushanuddaula, and Sa’adat Khan Burhanulmulk, the latter the governor of Oudh, flank a fountain in front of the prince. The elegant setting underscores the formal nature of the occasion depicted, the reception of senior nobles by the emperor.

About the Artist

Chitarman II (Kalyan Das)
Active at the court of Emperor Muhammad Shah in Delhi, ca. 1700–ca. 1745

Kalyan Das, more popularly known as Chitarman II, was born around 1680 at a time when court atelier structures had largely collapsed, following Emperor Aurangzeb’s disavowing of the visual arts. The first two decades of his career can be viewed as a formative period; Chitarman II’s apogee came after that time, when he became the most important court painter of his age under a new patron, Emperor Muhammad Shah (r. 1719–48). The intimate subjects he produced, for example the emperor engaged in sex, make it clear that the artist’s agenda was dictated by the patron. At the court in Delhi, Chitarman II became a specialist in portraits and figure painting. More formulaic genres such as audience scenes became less prevalent; instead, the patron Muhammad Shah had himself depicted as a hedonistic prince, seen seated on a litter and admiring his garden at sunset.

Chitarman II’s art documents the emergence of a new era, one that clearly departs from the naturalistic Mughal paintings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with their vogue for perspectival devices. His works appear somewhat cool at first glance; his colors — predominantly muted whites and grays — tend to have little gradation, rendering his pictures flat and geometric. The figures and architecture are arranged somewhat mechanically, as if with the use of a grid. Chitarman II purveyed a style that, to some extent, was atypical for Mughal-painting; his bold and flat application of color does, however, link to an aesthetic that is similar to contemporary paintings by Meju from the Pahari region.

Emperor Muhammad Shah with Four Courtiers, Smoking a Huqqah, Attributed to Chitarman II (Kalyan Das) (Indian, born ca. 1680, active ca. 1700–45), Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, India (Mughal court at Delhi)

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