Press release

New Installation of Indian Paintings Now on View in Metropolitan Museum's Irving Galleries

Dates: December 17, 2002 - April 6, 2003
Location: Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for South and Southeast Asian Art, 3rd floor

Purists at the Hindu Courts – a new installation of paintings from the Hindu courts of India, dating from the 17th to the 19th century – will be on view in Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for South and Southeast Asian Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through April 6, 2003. Drawn from the Museum's collection, and including many recent acquisitions, the installation features 18 works depicting hunting scenes, garden parties, and historical events. This exquisite grouping explores the interconnections between the Muslim and Hindu court traditions.

Steven M. Kossak, Associate Curator in the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Asian Art, commented: "These paintings record a fascinating chapter in the history of Indian painting, when artists at the Hindu courts appropriated Mughal subject matter and style, and show how they ultimately manipulated them to make them their own."

Among the works on view are:

§ Maharana Amar Singh II Riding a Jodhpur Horse, a recently acquired work in ink and opaque watercolor on paper, ca. 1700-1710, from Jaipur. In it, Amar Singh II, accompanied by four retainers, is shown riding to the hunt on a prized horse. In many ways the dramatically rendered, blue-gray steed is the artistic focus of the work. Portraits of prized horses and elephants were a Mughal genre as were nature studies, and in this work, the artist has insinuated the depiction into another Mughal idiom, the royal hunt. The principal figures are set in front of a barren hill, beyond which a plain stretches. To the right, beside a river is a Shaivite shrine, perhaps Eklingi, while to the left is a walled garden. Several of the finest artists at Amar Singh II's atelier created colored drawings instead of the more traditional Rajput brightly colored paintings.

§ Maharaja Sital Dev of Mankot in Devotion, ca. 1690, a portrait of a blind raja, which is a fine example of the important genre of portraiture of Maharajas from the Hill states in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Most works from this genre depict rulers in formal poses with servants profferring intoxicants (either pan – betel-nut, lime, and spices – or tobacco smoked in a hookah). In this work, the raja is shown unattended and saying his rosary, a private devotional act. There is a rare poignancy in the artist's subtle characterization of pose and features. Given the immediacy of the image it is startling to learn that Sital Dev ruled circa 1630-60, long before this image could possibly have been painted. Its style relates to the late 17th-century second phase of Basohli painting, when earlier coloristic and decorative exuberance gave way to a more subdued palette and less dramatic juxtapositions of pattern. A Mankot provenance has been posited for the painting, but its palette, particularly the soft buttery yellow of its background, is closer to colors used in the nearby principality of Basohli, as is its more refined drawing.

§ Maharaja Bijay Singh in his Harem (ca. 1770), another recent acquisition, depicts the Maharaja nestling with one of his wives in the midst of his harem while listening to a musical performance. Several of the women, intoxicated by the performance, have begun to dance and two more frolic in the forest beyond the marble terrace. The painting is beautifully rendered and the colors are particularly rich with the hot reds, oranges, and yellows offset by the cooler lavenders, pinks, and greens. The textiles are the work's most unusual element, and include gorgeous costumes and extraordinary rugs, the most distinctive of which is a large lavender-ground carpet with gold floral arabesques, red and pink leaves, and flowers inhabited by multi-colored parrots.

Purists at the Hindu Courts is organized by Steven M. Kossak.

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