The Stallion Kitab

Attributed to Bhavanidas, Indian

Made in Kishangarh, Rajasthan, India, Asia

c. 1735

Transparent and opaque watercolor and gold on paper

Sheet: 10 × 13 1/8 inches (25.4 × 33.3 cm)

Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Alvin O. Bellak Collection, 2004

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The large and resplendent stallion Kitab is painted in rich opaque watercolors, while the four ghostly grooms who attend him are rendered in thinner, transparent paint, leaving no doubt as to the real subject of this painting. Like many artists, the painter Bhavanidas traveled from court to court working for different patrons. Before going to Kishangarh, Bhavanidas worked for the Mughal court in Delhi, and here he draws the grooms' clothing and faces in a Mughal style. Such itinerant artists were a major factor in the blending of regional painting styles across India.

Additional information:
  • PublicationIntimate Worlds: Indian Paintings from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection

    Indian painting was greatly changed by the Safavid sensibilities and training of the sixteenth-century Iranian master artists directing the work of the indigenous artists at Akbar’s court as the Mughal style of painting was formed (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-12). With the succession of Mughal emperors, whose tastes and needs in painting varied, artists left the imperial court and moved to provincial ones, bringing their imperial Mughal style and conventions of painting to the provinces. The evidence of this “ripple effect” has been known for some time from the actual paintings from the Mughal court and others from such Rajput courts as Marwar, Bikaner, and Amber/Jaipur. Some Rajput paintings are in fact so close to Mughal pictures in style and subject that they have been understood to be Mughal.1 However, in the case of the artist Bhavanidas, who made this portrait of one of the stallions in the Kishangarh stud, his migration from the center to a smaller court is documented.2

    In 1719 Bhavanidas came from the Mughal court at Delhi to Kishangarh to work at the court of Raj Singh (reigned 1706–48).3 Like the rest of the Rajput nobility, as a servant of the Mughals, Raj Singh had spent time at the Mughal court partaking in the political and cultural life. His blood tie to the imperial family was through his sister (some sources say aunt), who was the wife of the emperor Bahadur Shah I and the mother of the heir apparent Prince Muhammad Azim ush Shan. It is perhaps significant that of Bhavanidas’s Mughal paintings, that is, the paintings he executed before leaving the Mughal court, three out of four appear to include or feature Azim ush Shan.4 Prince Azim ush Shan died in 1712 during the fratricidal war of succession after the death of Bahadur Shah I.

    Whether Bhavanidas had been in some way connected to the Kishangarh court before 1719 is unknown. His paintings of the heir apparent, son of a Kishangarh princess, may be an unrepresentational sample of his complete output. Raj Singh brought Bhavanidas to Kishangarh, where his Mughal-trained hand had a tremendous influence on the development of Kishangarh court painting. At 90 rupees per month, he was the most highly paid employee of the court.5

    Bhavanidas’s painting of the stallion Kitab is one of the last in his series of equine portraits, and the most strikingly elegant.6 The great beast catches the viewer’s eye with his vivid colors and voluptuous curves. His ghostly attendants, though deftly drawn, are given only faint washes of color and literally pale in comparison to their charge. The four syces, or grooms, tend the huge beast, two waving morchals (sheaves of peacock feathers bound with handles), usually associated with royalty,7 one holding the reins in one hand and a cloth in the other, and the fourth raising a smoking incense burner to the horse’s rearing head. The incense burner, upraised morchals, and cloth are seen in a painting in the collection of Sven Gahlin as well, suggesting that these items were used in a ceremony performed with the Kishangarh horses.8 The orange-red color on Kitab’s legs and lower body and tail is a common decoration on horses in Kishangarh paintings, and must reflect an actual practice of applying color to the animals.

    Bhavanidas’s Mughal training is manifest in the elegant lines of the drawing of the figures and in the deft portraits of the grooms. The choice of subject derives from Mughal painting, and before that Safavid painting. But the exquisite depiction of the stallion’s head and mane and the extravagant outlines of his body are Bhavanidas’s own. Ellen Smart, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 120-121.

    1. For a painting from Amber long thought to be Mughal, see Catherine Glynn and Ellen Smart. “A Mughal Icon Re-Examined.” Artibus Asiae, vol. 57, nos. 1–2 (1997), pp. 5–15, fig. 1. The painting is now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.80.6.6.
    2. I am greatly indebted to Navina Najat Haidar for sharing with me her forthcoming article “A Mughal Artist at a Rajput Court: The Role of Bhavanidas in the Development of the Kishangarh School of Painting,” in which she attributes this painting to Bhavanidas on the basis of similar signed paintings of the same horse. The article is based on research for her doctoral thesis, “The Kishangarh School of Painting, c. 1680–1850,” Oxford University, 1995.
    3. M. S. Randhawa and Doris Schreier Randhawa. Kishangarh Painting. Mumbai: Vakils, Feffer, & Simons, 1980, p. 11.
    4. See A Visual Genealogy of the Mughal Emperors, c. 1700, in which Azim ush Shan does not appear (Nour Collection, London; Linda Leach, “The Timurids as a Symbol for Emperor Jahangir,” in Sheila Canby, ed. Humayun’s Garden Party: Princes of the House of Timur and Early Mughal Painting. Mumbai: Marg Publications, 1994.4, p. 88, plate 6); Six Princes on a Terrace, signed by Bhavanidas, c. 1705, in which Azim ush Shan is in green at the lower left (San Diego Museum of Art, 1990:365; Pratapaditya Pal et al., Romance of the Taj Mahal [New York: Thames and Hudson, 1989], p. 26, color plate 17); Aurangzeb Receives Bahadur Shah, c. 1705, in which Azim ush Shan may be the prince seated beside his grandfather (Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, 4.7; Linda York Leach. Mughal and Other Indian Paintings from the Chester Beatty Library. London: Scorpion Cavendish, 1995, vol. 1, color plate 74); and Bahadur Shah Receives a Sarpech from Prince Azim ush Shan, c. 1710 (Sotheby’s, London, October 15, 1997, lot 65 [color]).
    5. M. S. Randhawa and Doris Schreier Randhawa. Kishangarh Painting. Mumbai: Vakils, Feffer, & Simons, 1980, p. 11.
    6. This painting is inscribed on the reverse, “Kitab, the wonderful Iranian [stallion], aglow with nine splendors” (transliterated it reads, “kitaab iran achambha daaha Nau angrang”). Although obscure, the inscription has been read using as a model the inscription on another horse painting by Bhavanidas, Piebald Stallion Named Jukaldan Iraqi, c. 1730, collection of Michael and Henrietta Spink, London (Sotheby’s, New York, June 2, 1992, lot 149; Toby Falk. “The Kishangarh Artist Bhavani Das.” Artibus Asiae, vol. 52, nos. 1–2 (1992), Notice 1 [n.p.]). For other equine portraits by Bhavanidas, see two views of the same stallion on either side of one page, c. 1725, formerly in the Heeramaneck Collection (Alice N. Heeramaneck, Masterpieces of Indian Painting from the Former Collections of Nasli M. Heeramaneck [N.p.: Alice N. Heeramaneck, 1984], plates 74, 75; Sotheby’s, New York, November 2, 1988, lot 47 [both]); Brown Stallion with Four Attendants, c. 1735, collection of Sven Gahlin (Sotheby’s, London, October 12, 1990, lot 55); and Horse and Two Attendants, c. 1735 (Toby Falk. “The Kishangarh Artist Bhavani Das.” Artibus Asiae, vol. 52, nos. 1–2 [1992], Notice 1 (n.p.), fig. 2 [detail]).
    7. For similar morchals see the Beatty painting cited in n. 4 above.
    8. Cited in n. 6 above.