The Pampered Princess

Artist/maker unknown, Indian

Made in Mankot, Jammu and Kashmir, India, Asia

c. 1680-1690

Opaque watercolor, gold, silver-colored paint, and beetle-wing cases on paper

Image: 6 7/8 × 8 15/16 inches (17.5 × 22.7 cm) Sheet: 8 3/8 × 10 5/8 inches (21.3 × 27 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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In this colorful scene of courtly life, a woman sits on a silver throne holding a golden goblet and smoking a huqqa (water pipe). Embellishment and ornamentation reveal this woman’s identity: her elevated position, elegantly embroidered clothes, and emerald‑like jewelry (made of the carapace of iridescent beetles) mark her as royalty. Female attendants sing and play for her, offering wine and delicacies, and one even massages her feet. While articulating her status, this painting is also about pleasure—delight in design and the beauty of adornment.

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

    It is the huge silver throne, sumptuously ornamented in slivers of iridescent beetle-wing cases, that dominates this composition.1 On it rests a woman clearly of royal rank. With one hand she drinks from a golden wine goblet, with the other she holds the pipe of a huqqa, her dainty tasseled slippers abandoned below the seat. Female attendants flock around her: one carries the huqqa and pinchers, another massages her foot, and a third proffers the wine flask and a cloth-covered plate of delicacies. Along with this pampering, she is also entertained by two female musicians--both are singing while one strums a tambor and the other claps. The clothing of all the women is rich, with a preponderance of finely woven, diaphanous fabrics. Yet the garments of the seated figure are the richest by far, heavy with gilding, embroidery, and pearl strands. The composition, which is similar to that of Bhadrakali with Companions (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-23), is here set against a background of bright Indian yellow. At the bottom is a light green wash of ground, dabbed with blades of grass; and across the top appears a high horizon of blue and white sky.

    Unlike male royal portraits at this period (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-34,35), which, though idealized, yet have distinctive features clearly drawn from life, female portraits throughout the history of Indian painting tend to be generic likenesses. As in most of northern India, pardha, or the seclusion of women from men other than those of their immediate family, was a practice in the courts of the Panjab Hills in the seventeenth century (and even into the twentieth). It is thus unlikely that male painters were permitted to view royal women and instead could only imagine them as stock feminine ideals.2

    This painting possesses a near duplicate, now in the Goenka Collection.3 While the two are almost precisely the same in composition, they are close but not identical in detailing, and may shed light on workshop practice. They do not appear to be pouncings or tracings, one from the other, as some of the relative positions differ slightly.4

    B. N. Goswamy dates the Goenka page to c. 1700 and speculates that it may have been painted in a workshop in the small kingdom of Mankot (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-31), and its heavily outlined eyes and narrow faces certainly do resemble contemporaneous portraits and other paintings that he attributes to the “Master at the Court of Mankot.”5 The Bellak page does show very slightly different physiognomy, with fuller faces, more lotiform eyes, and proportionally larger heads. In addition, there is a greater grace of movement and delicacy of draftsmanship (for example, the skirts of the standing women in the Goenka page fall in stiff, even bells, while those of the Bellak page are softer and drop more naturalistically). Finally, the figures display more intensity of expression in the Bellak painting. This is particularly noticeable in the three women standing before the throne, who gaze upward with solemn reverence at the princess. In the Goenka page, they smile slightly, and their stares are impassive. It thus seems likely that the Goenka painting is a copy of the Bellak page, although probably painted in the same workshop, perhaps even by the same artist. While the figures in the Bellak painting certainly bear a close resemblance to those from the workshop responsible for the so-called early Rasamanjari (probably located in Basohli; see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-25), and the handling of the very high, wet skyline also links them to this idiom, other details of treatment and iconography--including the specific highbacked throne--add further weight to a Mankot attribution. Darielle Mason, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 80-81.

    1. The page is known to have once been in the collection of the well-known painter Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1894–1975) in Lahore, and both his Persian and English seals are stamped on the reverse.
    2. However, this point has been debated in the realm of Mughal painting, and the issue remains open. See Ellen Smart, “A Mid- Seventeenth-Century Mughal Painting of Jahanara Begum,” paper presented at the symposium of the American Council for Southern Asian Art, Philadelphia, May 12–14, 2000.
    3. B. N. Goswamy with Usha Bhatia. Painted Visions: The Goenka Collection of Indian Paintings. New Delhi: Lalit Kala Akademi and Rabindra Bhavan, 1999., p. 217, no. 164. The Goenka painting, which measures 6 1/2 x 8 7/8 inches (16.6 x 22.5 cm) (image), and 13 x 18 1/2 inches (33 x 47 cm) (full page), was at some point remounted in later borders and may also have been cropped slightly, since the line of sky at the top is absent.
    4. For example, in the Bellak page the huqqa-bearer is placed higher in relation to the throne.
    5. In B. N. Goswamy and Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Supplement 38 of Artibus Asiae. Exh. cat. Zurich: Museum Rietberg, 1992., pp. 95–125. Possibly the closest painting stylistically to the Bellak and Goenka pages is Raja Kripal Pal of Basohli Smoking with Girl Attendants in the Dogra Art Gallery, Jammu (see W. G. Archer. Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills: A Survey and History of Pahari Miniature Painting. 2 vols. London: Sotheby Parke Bernet; Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1973. vol. 1, p. 375, Mankot no. 16). Archer’s logic in attributing this painting to a Mankot workshop is that it was found in a Mankot royal collection and that another “noticeably . . . more florid” painting of the same ruler represents the contemporaneous Basohli idiom (ibid.). Perhaps tellingly, it is the pages of the “horizontal” Mankot Bhagavata Purana depicting the infancy of Krishna that most resemble the Bellak and Goenka pages.