Asian and African studies blog

27 June 2013

Recent acquisition - Rao Arjun Singh worshipping Sri Brijnathji

Past blog entries have highlighted our recent acquisitions in the Visual Arts department. Two of the most recent paintings we have acquired include a portrait of Ikhlas Khan and scene featuring a reluctant maiden by the artist Faizallah

I am pleased to announce that earlier this year we also added this striking study of Rao Arjun Singh of Kotah (ruled 1720-23) worshipping Sri Brijnathji in a rose garden. Painted at the court of Kotah during the period 1720-25, this is the only identified portrait of Arjun Singh in a national collection in the United Kingdom. This work can be attributed to one the master painters of Kotah of the early eighteenth century. 

Rao Arjun Singh worshipping Sri Brijnathji in a rose garden  noc (BL Add.Or.5722)
Kotah (India), 1720-25
Opaque watercolour and gold on paper
Painting: 30.5 x 32.5 cm

In this lavish scene, Rao Arjun Singh is featured worshipping Sri Brijnathji. Sri Brijnathji, the tutelary deity of the state of Kotah, is enthroned under a rose-bedecked chhatri. The setting is a garden which is divided by water channels into quarters that are filled with rosebushes. Standing directly behind Sri Brijnathji is an attendant. The painting reveals how Hindu rulers in Rajasthan treated deities not as idols but as living deities. More importantly, this work demonstrates how the ruler instructed the artist to personify the deity using his own physiognomy. Rao Arjun Singh’s distinctive sharp-nosed profile is the model for Shri Brijnathji (deity), the worshipper, as well as attendant. Arjun Singh features both the worshipper as well as the subservient attendant holding a peacock feather flywhisk. In regards to its research potential, this complex painting casts light on the intricate relationship between state and religion in one of the important Rajput kingdoms. Of course artists did also paint straighforward portraits of Rao Arjun Singh as well. For a study of Rao Arjun Singh of Kotah admiring a horse, see this study at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

On the reverse it is inscribed in Rajasthani in nagariSri Braijainathai ji gulabai bagai ma birajai cha (which can be interpreted as 'Sri Brijnath Ji is in the Rose Garden in Braj').

Material held in the Visual Arts department at the British Library can be viewed by appointment in the Print Room. Please email for an appointment.


Malini Roy, Visual Arts Curator  ccownwork
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Further reading:

W.G. Archer, Bundi and Kotah Painting, 1959

M.C. Beach, 'Masters of Early Kota Painting' in Beach, M.C., Fischer, E., and Goswamy, B.N., Masters of Indian Painting, Artibus Asiae, Zurich, 2011, pp. 459-78

S.C. Welch, et. al., Gods, Kings and Tigers: the Art of Kotah, Prestel, Munich, New York, 1997.


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