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Ladies of the Zenana on a Roof Terrace
Not on view
In this scene of harem women amusing themselves on a roof terrace, the artist evoked a comfortable and hedonistic world. The influence of Mughal painting is indisputable, in both the subject matter and the style in which it is rendered. Ruknuddin probably was trained by the Delhi painter ‘Ali Raza; he later replaced him as chief painter in Bikaner. Ruknuddin also spent some time in the Deccan, as inscriptions on two of his works attest.
About the Artist
Active at the court in Bikaner ca. 1650-97. especially under the patronage of Anup Singh
Bikaner, a desert town in Rajasthan, is known for a hybrid style that incorporates influences from both the Mughal workshops and the remote Deccan. Relatively little is known about the early phase of this type of painting. Two clans produced the majority of Bikaner’s painters. Ruknuddin, who had an impressively long career, was one of the area’s most established artists. Under the ruler Anup Singh (r. 1669–98), he rose to the position of workshop director.
Although the documents relating to painting in Bikaner are informative and the most important artist genealogies have been researched, the system of smaller studios is not as well understood. Hundreds of paintings are assigned to Ruknuddin according to their inscribed annotations, but they exhibit such a broad range of styles that it is impossible to attribute them to a single hand. Apparently, numerous painters worked on various series, wholly beholden to the style of the master. Further, works by Ruknuddin’s son Ibrahim, for example, may have been inventoried under his father’s name.
It is documented that Karan Singh (r. 1631–69), Anup Singh’s predecessor, summoned painters from Delhi to his court, among them ‘Ali Raza. It is tempting to assume that Ruknuddin was trained under ‘Ali Raza, about whom little is heard after 1660. Around 1650, the ruler requested that ‘Ali Raza record with his brush one of his dreams, a vision of Lakshmi and Narayana. Ruknuddin painted the same subject some thirty years later.
Ruknuddin was a master of color and patterns. In this work, the exquisitely rendered folds of Vishnu’s robe, the semitransparent fabrics of the women presenting gifts to the divine couple, and the subtle shading of the faces are obviously reminiscent of Mughal painting. Beautiful women, even in a secular context, were among Ruknuddin’s favorite subjects. If one compares such pictures from the 1660s and 1670s as a group, one is particularly struck by the porcelain-like treatment of the faces that recurs in works of this period.
Ruknuddin accompanied the rulers of Bikaner on their military campaigns to the Deccan, which were conducted as part of their contractural service to the Mughal court. He is associated with a number of portraits painted there in a distinctly Mughal manner, reflecting his exposure to further currents of influence.