Maharana Sangram Singh
Watercolor on Paper
13.0" X 19.0"
This painting measuring 37 by 54 cms, obviously a large size for a miniature opted perhaps for revealing with greater clarity mental disposition of the portrayed figures besides their physiognomy, represents Maharana Sangram Singh of Mewar. With a small retinue of four attendants the Maharana has been represented riding a horse. Nothing in the painting links the rendition to an official trip, procession, or march, a private journey to a shrine, divine or friend, or even an outing. The painting is hence just a portrait formal in nature and equestrian in kind. Besides representing Maharana's likeness the artist has added to it the usual set of formal elements. Four attendants, the foremost carrying hookah, the last one, royal standard, and other two, flywhisks, have been added only to assert his authority and position as the monarch of the land. As in most medieval portraits, the galloping horse and the background with flowering shrubs scattered all over are stylised. Even the distant hills and trees grown over them reveal geometric symmetry. The horse seems to gallop quite speedily; the Maharana is nonetheless enjoying his hookah in full composure. Even the attendant, carrying the hookah along with, is not required to accelerate his pace to match that of the horse. Horse-shoes of gold, Mughalia yak-tail in horse's neck and other ornamental elements apart, Maharana Sangram Singh has been attributed with a greenish-blue nimbus contained in golden frame with prominent rays all formal elements. Sangram Singh's likeness is, however, real. He has similar likeness face, anatomy, attire
in many of his contemporary portraits. Except its size, this painting itself is based on an exactly identical miniature, rendered during his lifetime and at his court. This early painting is now in the National Museum, New Delhi. Maharana Sangram Singh ruled Mewar from 1710 to1734, perhaps Mewar's last ruler enjoying some amount of internal security. With Aurangzeb's death in 1707 Mughal Empire began waning bringing political instability also amongst Rajput states. Just within a year of his ascendance Sangram Singh received the news of Marathas' northward incursions. After five years he was required to send a contingent to assist Malwa in keeping Marathas away. In 1720, Baji Rao assumed as the new Peshwa. Baji Rao declared northwards expansion as his foremost agenda. In 1733 Marathas captured Malwa. Interference by Marathas - Sindhia and Holkar, in internal matters of Rajput states was increasing. The head of the leading Rajput state, Sangram Singh worked for Rajput unity. He organised a meeting of all Rajput chiefs in 1734 but before it took place he passed away. Sangram Singh's portrait reveals both, abundance of Mewar in his costume, jewellery and horse's drapery, as also the shadow of uncertainty that his face reflects. Whatever the political uncertainty, Sangram Singh's was the reign known for its massive art activity. Though he did not have such refined eye, as had his father Amar Singh, both in quantity and quality production of painting under him was prolific. He gave his artists unprecedented scope for developing narrative imagination and reinvigorated the prior stagnant tradition of manuscript illustration and long collaborative series running in hundreds of folios. Some of the series, rendered under him, are simply outstanding. Ramayana, Gita Govinda, Bihari's Sat Sai, Keshava's Rasikapriya among others are some outstanding illustrated manuscripts of his period. Mullah Dupiaza, a combination of satire and morality and humour and seriousness, is simply unique. This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.
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.