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"Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur"

- Unprecedented ‘Monumental Manuscripts’

Photo - Mehrangarh Museum Trust


Sixty newly discovered paintings from the royal collection of Jodhpur will have a world debut on October 11 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington DC. These never-before-exhibited paintings are from the palace at Nagaur, once a part of the princely state of Marwar-Jodhpur (now in the state of Rajasthan). Aptly titled ‘Garden and Cosmos’ – this collection of paintings reveals the sensuous garden aesthetics of 18th century Rajputana painters. The court painting traditions in the erstwhile kingdom of Marwar-Jodhpur originated in the 17th century. Produced exclusively for the Marwar-Jodhpur maharajas, none of the sixty works on view in ‘Garden & Cosmos’ have ever been published or seen by scholars since their creation centuries ago.

It was during the reign of Maharaja Vijai Singh in the latter half of 18th century that the court atelier created the ‘monumental manuscript’ genre for depicting stories from sacred texts. Strikingly innovative in their large scale (many are four feet wide), subject matter, and style, they reveal the conceptual sophistication of the royal atelier. A dramatic shift occurred in the 19th century Jodhpur atelier, from the grandeur of mythological paintings set in lavish gardens to the minimal aesthetic of philosophy and metaphysics – both are unprecedented in Indian art.

Ten 17th-century Jodhpur paintings are borrowed from museum collections in India, Europe, and the U.S.


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. The painters at the court atelier developed two distinct aesthetic sensibilities. 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 the sublime and cosmos. They created bold "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 finely detailed opaque watercolours on paper, but their scale dramatically overturns typical expectations of Indian painting as a "miniature" art.


The Origins of Jodhpur Court Painting

Between the 13th and the 17th centuries, leaders of the Rathore clan progressed from their role as regional rulers to becoming notable and eminent 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. The early royal portraits and paintings with musical theme (ragamala) were small in size.

Gardens for Royal Pleasure: Maharaja Bakhat Singh

The recently rediscovered 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. Though an exemplary ruler, Bakhat Singh lived with a marred reputation - he had murdered his father in order to gain the throne of Nagaur. However, he transformed his desert kingdom of Nagaur 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.

Gardens for Divine Play: Maharaja Vijai Singh

Maharaja Vijai Singh, son of Bakhat Singh, ruled Marwar for 41 years (1752-93). Vijai Singh’s atelier created the "monumental manuscript" genre for sacred texts depicting Lord Krishna, Lord Rama and the great Goddess. While Vijai Singh’s court artists continued to depict gardens and palaces in the rich pastel colours employed at Nagaur in Bakhat Singh’s reign (1725-51), their vision expanded and transformed the earthly court into expansive sacred landscapes.

Kingdom and Cosmos: Maharaja Man Singh

Man Singh, the grandson of Vijai 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, as well as shimmering chakras (energy centres), mandalas (cosmic maps) and asanas (yoga postures).

His Highness Gaj Singh II

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.

After debuting in Washington, D.C. (Oct 11, 2008 to Jan 4, 2009), 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). The exhibition is organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in collaboration with the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, India.

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 catalogue containing more than 100 colourful images and individual essays by noted scholars assessing the new and recent discoveries presented in "Garden and Cosmos."

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.


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