Maharana Sangram Singh of Mewar, His Two Sons, and Courtiers

Artist/maker unknown, India

Geography:
Made in Udaipur, Rajasthan, Mewar, India, Asia

Date:
c. 1715-20

Medium:
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper

Dimensions:
12 7/16 x 21 1/4 inches (31.6 x 54 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Indian and Himalayan Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
2004-43-1

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

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Label:
This painting is one of four made for the rulers (called Maharanas) of the powerful Rajput kingdom of Mewar. Together these works illustrate an amazing, multigenerational tale of courtly intrigue, betrayal, and revenge. Here Maharana Sangram Singh (ruled 1710-34) walks with his sons and courtiers through the palace in Udaipur, Mewar's capital city. Although their faces are impassive and each figure is formally posed in profile, the artist has added little touches that suggest the intimacy of family relations and at the same time reinforce the hierarchy of royal roles. The gold-haloed Maharana, for example, holds the hand of his small heir, the boy who would become Maharana Jagat Singh II. The rearmost man in green is the courtier Baba Bharath Singh. He holds the hand of another of the king's younger sons, probably Nathji.

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

    Portraiture came to Mewari painting only about 1670, but Mewari rulers quickly succumbed to the appeal of having a visual record of their earthly glory. Taking their cue from the Mughals, they began to commission individualized likenesses of themselves engaged in assorted courtly activities. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the sheer variety of these activities easily outstripped that of any other school of painting in Rajasthan. The most popular portrait type was the equestrian portrait, in which the ruler appeared astride a powerful mount, sometimes alone, but more often towering above a cluster of retainers. A more active demonstration of physical prowess occurred at the hunt, when the king subdued ferocious beasts from either the height of an elephant or horse or the cover of a hunting blind. Within the confines of palatial quarters, the maharana was often shown presiding over a variety of state functions, such as formal audiences and seasonal or religious festivities. Sometimes he permitted himself to be seen in less ceremonious moments instead, and was depicted enjoying a huqqa, game of chance, or dance performance with an elite coterie.

    No matter what the situation, the image of the ruler in Mewari painting remained immutable. Apart from gradual increments in height and bulk, no sign of age ever debased his body, and no expression ever flickered across his face to suggest a personal mood or thought. It was not beyond the capacity of Mewari artists to describe such transitory effects; it was rather a conscious conceptual decision to identify nearly every individual by means of a very restricted set of physical features—sometimes no more than the shape of the nose and eyes, and the cut of the beard—and then to maintain that highly conventionalized form in every circumstance. And when the dictates of court fashion led scions and courtiers to emulate the sovereign’s hairstyle, artists ensured that there could be no possible confusion of status by making the maharana alone nimbate, by aggrandizing him physically, and by isolating him at the center or some other prominent focal point of every composition. In the end, the subject of these portraits was not so much an individual to be scrutinized physically and psychologically as much as the royal presence, an idea that superseded the importance of any individual who might hold that title for a time.

    This portrait of Sangram Singh (reigned 1710–34) shows the maharana promenading with his sons and a few courtiers through an unidentified passageway in the palace. The action is unusually nondescript, representing neither an official duty nor a typical leisure activity. It is, instead, a kind of casual dynastic image, a point indicated by the detailed listing of the figures in a long inscription written on the reverse, but one implied even by the arrangement of the figures. Sangram Singh, identified by his radiant halo and central position, is preceded immediately by his two sons, Jagat Singh and Nathji. Behind the maharana are figures identified (from left to right) as “his prince at hand,” Babaji Bharath Singh (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-55,56), and Maharaja Sundar Singh; before him are Tulsidasa (in yellow, bearing a chauri, or fly whisk); Prince Kisan Singh, son of Maharaja Sundar Singh; and Amar Chand (the chauri-bearer in the foreground). The painting can be dated by the age of the heir apparent, Jagat Singh II (born 1709), who is depicted as a youth in a number of other contemporary paintings.1

    Although the setting is also extraordinarily plain, it subtly reinforces the hierarchy of the family group and imparts the slightest sense of motion to the plodding ensemble. The large gray doorway immediately above Sangram Singh, for example, complements the maharana’s central position by extending the central axis to the top of the composition; a smaller doorway performs the same function for the two named chauri-bearers before him. Likewise, the wall behind the figures jogs downward just before the two princes, simultaneously marking the end of the central section and strengthening the visual association of the two small princes with their father. The flanking arched doorways, seen in perspectival view, provide a modest sense of direction within the composition as well as some relief from the rigid compositional grid. John Seyller, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 146-147.

    1. See, for example, Sotheby’s, London, April 26, 1994, lots 23–25. Several of the other figures depicted in this painting appear in those works as well.