Chilling With The Peacock
This complex watercolour depicts a moment in the private life of Mughal court-maidens. Three friends, handpicked from across the country for their beauty and bearing, have gathered in their chamber to talk about their day and amuse themselves with their fourth friend, the peacock. It is well-past dusk, as could be gleaned from the beauteous night outside the window, painted with the most skilled and imaginative brushstrokes._x000D_In the privacy of each other’s company, the ladies have let their hair and dupattas down. The peacock is eating out of the hands of one of them, while the other two look on. The painting boasts of a remarkable level of attention to detail - the gold booties on their richly coloured lehengas, the lush rugs and cushions they are sitting on, and the lifelike candle burning steadily in the foreground._x000D_Upon gazing at each of the ladies in turn, one finds that each of the splendidly dressed ladies is fairer than the other. They are youthful and lithe, their irresistible figures enhanced by the skimpy cholies and low-cut lehengas they are wearing. Together, they are no less than the sultry glimpse of the skies in the background, the jewels on their flaxen bodies competing with the resplendence of the moon.
Water Color Painting on Paper
8.6 inch X 11.5 inch
A brilliant painting, both in bright colour-scheme as well as in its portrayal of gold-like glistening faces – all, the noble lady or the maids, models of exceptional beauty, a work of contemporary hands, is one of the finest examples of the mid-nineteenth century India when medieval idiom in styles of painting, costumes, architecture among others still lurked but at the same time readying itself for saying good-bye to centuries’ old medievalism or what defined the civil life for long past. The painting represents a royal lady feeding honey to her pet bird, a peacock, with a cup of gold. The peacock’s presence and the fan in the hand of one of the attending maids suggest that it is an autumn evening, not cold but also not very hot. Outside the window – a large door-like wide opening, the sun – sad as it looks, as if unwilling to bid adieu to those inside the royal enclosure it shares its glow with, keeps hanging for some moments before it descends down. Clouds, dark and deep, have gathered around as if in sympathy and the maroon kshatra with a decorative hanging over the princess’s bed looking as would a curtain collected and folded – much like a thickly petalled rose, transforms into the mirror of the sun’s mood. The sky has announced the day’s departure and the fall of evening and, perhaps a daily routine, the royal lady’s pet peacock has slipped into her chamber and has occupied its seat on the window’s frame, as comfortable and confidently as in its natural home. Though the bird has extended its beak to the royal lady who is holding a tiny cup of gold full of honey, it awaits a similar move from the lady’s side. Conscious of its dignity the bird knows that the honey in the cup is for it and shall reach it for besides her love for it she has also to persuade it to welcome with a colourful dance her lord when he comes to her. However, the royal lady would not easily yield. She allures the bird but keeps the cup a bit away and carefully watches the bird’s move. The other maid, seated on the floor, is extending to her another cup alike filled with honey but the royal lady’s hands are already occupied and the maid has to keep it holding. The maid with tiny hand-fan standing towards the foot of the bed is extending to the royal lady a round mirror contained in an artistically designed gold frame. The artist has not wasted much of the background space for the display of stately grandeur. It is more or less a moderately sized chamber with green marble tiles flooring with green carpet overlaid and large window opening into a green garden beyond. The royal lady’s bed with two huge bolsters and a lavish backrest framed in gold, besides two maids in attendance, reveal her royal status. More significant is the amalgamation of modern art elements such as the depth perspective and the kind of background. In such features reveals the late Mughal miniature idiom, as practiced around 1850-60, mainly at Mughal Subas – provincial headquarters like Oudh and Murshidabad, that during the Mughal Empire’s decadent phase had proclaimed independence. Craving to look like the great masters the state chiefs of such Subas copied not only their lifestyle but also their art-cult. Thus, while stylistically their art had Mughal art’s flavour it adopted new themes, often a pastime as also a simpler background and simpler architecture. This painting portrays a similar theme – a princess passing her evening by feeding a peacock. This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet.
The Mughal school of painting runs parallel to the Mughal dynasty. It came into prominence in the sixteenth century, during the reign of king Akbar. It reached its zenith under the patronage of Akbar’s grandson – king Jahangir. The reign of the latter’s successor king Shah Jahan saw its decline and finally under the unsympathetic Aurangzeb it breathed its last. Indeed, as a school of art, the duration of Mughal painting was a limited one, extending only over approximately two and a half centuries. Actually, it has often been referred to as not exactly a school, but rather an exceptionally brilliant phase in Indian art.
The roots of Mughal painting lay in Samarkand and Herat, where under the patronage of the Timurid kings, Persian art reached its apogee. Babur, a descendant of Timur, and the founder of the Mughal dynasty, speaks of a person named ‘Bihzad’ as ‘a most eminent painter’. It was with the descendants of Bihzad and the deep personal interest taken by Akbar, the grandson of king Babur, that the Mughal school of art started off with a flourish.
Regarding the aesthetics of Mughal painting, one exceptional feature is its commitment to realism or the delineation of likeness. The subjects were majorly drawn from the extremely rich and magnificent court life under the Mughals. That this was a flourishing art during Akbar’s reign is borne out by the list of more than forty painters found in a book written during his era.
However, it was under Akbar’s son Jehangir that Mughal painting gained its highest peaks. Not only portraits and hunting scenes, but also scientific studies of botany and natural history found favor with the artists under the king’s support. The Mughal painters were asked to paint unusual specimens of flora and fauna in their exact likeness. Some of these skilfully painted pictures have survived till today, narrating to us the uniqueness of those rich times.
Under the reign of Shajahan, son of Jahangir, the Mughal school of painting entered its decline. The actual treatment of the subject matter is replaced with more decorative embellishments like rich flowery borders etc. Under Shahjahan architecture scaled new peaks (Taj Mahal etc.), but painting deteriorated. Finally, with the rise of Aurangzeb, Mughal painting breathed its last.