Eminent art historian J P Losty catalogues and describes an eclectic collection of Indian miniature paintings accumulated over the years by textile collectors Praful and Shilpa Shah in his new book.
Many of these paintings offer fascinating insights into Indian attire and fabrics, as they were acquired for the textiles and costumes they illustrate.
“Court and Courtship: Indian Miniatures in the TAPI Collection” catalogues the collection in detail, highlighting the special aspects of each miniature painting.
The paintings cover the classic texts of Sanskrit and Hindi literature including a 17th-century ragamala, the Shangri Ramayana, the Gita Govinda, Harivamsha, and Rasikapriya. Two beautiful Nathdwara paintings, by the master artists Sukhdev Gaur and Ghasiram Sharma are also included in the book.
The collection begins with an image of the Shankasura Vadha episode from the Bhagavata Purana. This 16th century Rajput miniature depicts the events surrounding Krishna’s killing of the sea demon in order to rescue his guru Sandipani’s son.
The book ends with a double spread image of the Nathdwara painting ‘Gopashtami celebration in a courtyard of Srinathji haveli’. There is also a selection of portraits including Mughal miniatures of emperors and courtiers, paintings from Kangra, as well as the Deccan, Rajasthan and central India.
Several paintings show Krishna and Radha in various stages of their courtship, as well as courtiers and a range of Indian beauties, praying, bathing, adorning themselves, celebrating festivities and waiting for their lovers.
Many of these paintings were acquired for their depiction of Indian costumes and textiles, as the owners are renowned textile collectors.
The 90 images in “Court and Courtship”, published by Niyogi Books, include several images of royal horses and elephants. From the elephants Gajraj and Khushi Khan to the horse Raghunath Prasad, richly caparisoned and seen in all their glory, the significance and special status of these royal animals are evident in these intimate portraits.
Losty, curator of Indian manuscripts and paintings at the British Museum and British Library in London for 34 years who has published extensively on illustrated Indian manuscripts and painting in India from the 11th to the 19th century, invites readers to savour the colours and minute details of each painting.
The Shahs are cofounders of the TAPI Collection (Textile and Art of the People of India). Established in 2001 and comprising works acquired from the 1980s, the collection has evolved into one of the pre-eminent private collections of Indian textiles and art. PTI ZMN RB RB
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