THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

08 March 2014

Distinctive leg-of-mutton legs and fine jewels: a new display of Indian paintings in the Treasures of the British Library

Regular visitors to the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library, may have encountered our recent display of Natural History drawings from India next to the entrance to the Magna Carta. From 8 March 2014, a new display of Indian paintings from the Visual Arts collection will be on view.

The British Library’s collection of Indian paintings date mainly from the 16 -19th centuries. The works include portraits and paintings from provinces such as Lucknow, Hyderabad,  Murshidabad, the Deccan, Central India, Rajasthan, the Punjab Hills and Plains. The core collection was formed by Richard Johnson, who was in the service of the East India Company from 1770-90. Johnson’s collection was later acquired by the East India Company for its Library in 1807 and afterwards incorporated into the British Library.

In this period Mughal emperors, kings of Rajasthan and even British officers were great patrons of art, establishing workshops and commissioning countless paintings. Popular topics for artists included lavish depictions of court life, portraiture and visualisations of romantic poetry. As works of art on paper, these illustrations were intended to be viewed by the patron alone or shared with a privileged audience. Rather than being displayed on walls, the works were either bound in a muraqqa (album) or stacked as sets of folios so that the viewer had every opportunity to marvel at the intricate details.

Highlights include one of our most recent acquisitions, a portrait of Rao Arjun Singh worshipping Sri Brijnathji in a rose garden, as well as a selection of Indian paintings that have been added to the collection in the last few decades. To understand the reference to the distinctive leg-of-mutton legs, you may need to get up close to our new display of paintings!

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Rao Arjun Singh worshipping Sri Brijnathji in a rose garden, Kotah (India), 1720-25. British Library, Add.Or.5722. noc

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Maharana Bhim Singh of Mewar out hunting, Mewar (Rajasthan, India), c. 1800-10. British Library, Add.Or.4662.  noc

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Maharana Fateh Singh of Udaipur atop an elephant, attributed to Shivalal, Udaipur (Rajasthan, India), c. 1888-89. British Library, Add.Or.5603  noc

The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library hosts a permanent free display of the library's greatest treasures. It is usually open 7 days a week.

Additional material held in the Visual Arts department at the British Library can be viewed by appointment in the Print Room (Asian & African Studies Reading Room). Please email apac-prints@bl.uk for an appointment. The Print Room is generally open Monday-Friday, from 2-5pm.

 

Malini Roy, Visual Arts Curator

 

 

Material held in the Visual Arts department at the British Library can be viewed by appointment in the Print Room. Please email apac-prints@bl.uk for an appointment.

 

Malini Roy, Visual Arts Curator  ccownwork
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- See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/06/recent-acquisition-rao-arjun-singh-of-kotah.html#sthash.whzJhs0f.dpuf

 

 

 

 

Comments

Is that a little dog on top of the elephant's head in the Udaipur Maharana painting? If not what is it?

What is the animal (?) dangling between the horse's chest and the man in front of horse in the Mewar painting?

Thanks Joanna for your comments.

The decoration on top of the Maharana Fateh Singh's elephant is a golden lion.

In the portrait of Maharana Bhim Singh of Mewar, it is a white bird (perhaps a goose) that is held by the attendant and dangling in front of the horse.

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