“Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur” World Debut Oct. 11 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
This fall, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery will introduce an astonishing exhibition of newly discovered Indian paintings from the royal court collection of Marwar-Jodhpur. “Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur,” will be on display from Oct. 11, 2008, to Jan. 4, 2009, before continuing on international tour through December 2009.
The exhibition is organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in collaboration with the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, India. It has received support from Air India, The Boeing Co., the Leon Levy Foundation, the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries and the Embassy of India to the United States.
Marwar-Jodhpur, the largest of the former Rajput kingdoms (in the modern state of Rajasthan), was ruled by the Rathore Rajputs, a princely caste of warriors who became great patrons of art in the 17th to19th centuries. Produced for the private enjoyment of the Marwar-Jodhpur maharajas, virtually none of the 60 works on view in “Garden and Cosmos” have ever been published or seen by scholars since their creation centuries ago. Strikingly innovative in their large scale, subject matter and styles, they reveal both the conceptual sophistication of the royal atelier and the kingdom’s engagement with the changing political landscapes of early modern India.
Marwar-Jodhpur court painters’ atelier developed two major aesthetic sensibilities that have been previously unrecognized. The dominant theme of 18th-century painting was the garden, an idyllic landscape enjoyed by rulers and gods alike. In the 19th century, artists focused on evoking otherworldly spaces of a sublime and awe-inspiring cosmos.
The bold inventiveness of Marwar-Jodhpur artists is revealed through their creation of “monumental manuscripts.” Thirty-three monumental folios, each a full-page painting approximately four feet in width, are featured in the exhibition. Like most north Indian court paintings, they are glowing and finely detailed opaque watercolors on paper, but their scale dramatically overturns typical expectations of Indian painting as a “miniature” art.
“Garden and Cosmos” is divided into thematic sections devoted to the garden and cosmos themes, with an introductory gallery about the kingdom of Marwar-Jodhpur and the origins of its court painting traditions in the 17th century.
The Garden in the Desert
The exhibition opens with a splendid embroidered tent canopy from the Marwar ancestral collection. Exuberantly adorned on its interior with silk-embroidered blossoms on scrolling vines, the tent canopy recreates the virtual gardens that the maharajas enjoyed when they made camp in remote areas of the desert kingdoms while on military campaigns or religious pilgrimages. The floral pattern, which recurs on paintings throughout the “Garden” galleries, epitomizes the Marwar aesthetic of the garden.
The Origins of Jodhpur Court Painting
Between the 13th and the 17th centuries, the Rathore clan leaders transformed from regional rulers into cosmopolitan maharajas, or great kings. Five 17th-century paintings track this transformation by revealing how the atelier brought together a local, spontaneous style and the sophisticated court style of the Mughal Empire (1526-1857) to create a uniquely Marwar-Jodhpur idiom. Small in size, these royal portraits and musical theme (ragamala) paintings allow the viewer to fully appreciate the innovative directions taken by the atelier in the following centuries.
Gardens for Royal Pleasure: Maharaja Bakhat Singh
A recently rediscovered cache of paintings reveal that the aesthetic of the garden emerged under Maharaja Bakhat Singh (1725-51) at Ahhichatragarh Fort in Nagaur on the northern border of Marwar. Bakhat Singh was an exemplary ruler, but his reputation was permanently stained when he murdered his father in order to gain the throne of Nagaur. At Nagaur, Bakhat Singh transformed the arid region into a garden paradise by rebuilding its palaces and creating a sophisticated water-harvesting system. Eleven paintings accurately depict the architectural setting and express Bakhat Singh’s sensuous delight in the opulent garden-palaces. Many paintings also depict musical performances. Visitors to this gallery can experience similar Marwar court compositions, which will be played continuously for the duration of the exhibition.
Gardens for Divine Play: Maharaja Vijai Singh
Maharaja Vijai Singh, the son of Bakhat Singh, ruled Marwar for 41 years (1752-93). Vijai Singh’s atelier created the “monumental manuscript” genre for sacred texts relating the exploits of Krishna, Rama and the great Goddess. While Vijai Singh’s court artists continued to depict gardens and palaces in the rich pastel colors employed at Nagaur in Bakhat Singh’s reign (1725-51), their grand vision expanded and transformed the earthly court into expansive sacred landscapes that charm and delight with narrative verve and compositional ingenuity.
Kingdom and Cosmos: Maharaja Man Singh
The grandson of Vijai Singh, Man Singh credited his almost miraculous recovery to an immortal practitioner of hatha yoga (mahasiddha) who was worshipped by Nath Sampradaya, the religious tradition that revealed hatha yoga in the 12th or 13th century. Man Singh patronized more than 1,000 paintings expressing the sacred power of the Nath mahasiddhas and their metaphysics. Monumental paintings in this section represent profound subjects never before tackled by Indian court painters with visionary intensity. Subjects include the origins of the cosmos and the immaterial essence of being Brahman, as well as shimmering chakras (energy centers), mandalas (cosmic maps) and asanas (yoga postures).
More than 50 of the works presented in “Garden and Cosmos” were lent to the museum by His Highness Gaj Singh II, the Maharaja of Marwar-Jodhpur, India, from the Mehrangarh Museum Trust. The 36th Maharaja of the Rathore clan of Jodhpur, he is a recipient of the renowned Hadrian award from the World Monuments Fund for his work on cultural and architectural preservation in Rajasthan and currently serves on the Governing Council of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. Selected paintings are also on loan from the National Museum of India and European, American, and Australian museums. After debuting in Washington, D.C., the exhibition will travel to the Seattle Art Museum (Jan. 29-April 26, 2009); the British Museum (May 28-Aug. 23, 2009); and the National Museum of India, New Delhi (October-December 2009).
Debra Diamond, associate curator of South and Southeast Asian art at the Freer and Sackler galleries, is the exhibition curator. The curatorial team also includes Karni Singh Jasol, curator of the Mehrangarh Fort Museum in Jodhpur, India, and Catherine Glynn, an independent scholar of Rajput painting.
Accompanying the exhibition is a 352-page, fully illustrated catalog containing more than 100 colorful images and individual essays by noted scholars assessing new and recent discoveries of each work presented in “Garden and Cosmos.” An audio guide produced by Narrowcasters, which features narration by the exhibition curator and the current Maharaja of Marwar-Jodhpur, along with music and poetry readings that relate to the paintings, accompanies the exhibition.
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Ave. S.W., and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information about the Freer and Sackler galleries and their exhibitions, programs and other events, the public is welcome to visit www.asia.si.edu. For general Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 633-5285.
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