Raj Singh of Sawar

Sawar, Rajasthan, India
Circa 1680-90
Opaque watercolour and gold on paper.
21 x 17.5 cm

Against a pale green background, Raj Singh is portrayed on horseback, perhaps on the way to a shikar. There is a restraint in the decorations of the horse, particularly the saddle and the straps, the Maharaja holds a spear in his right hand, the end of which is carefully tucked between the strap tied to the back of the horse. He also carries a Katar or punch dagger and a sword. The white muslin clothes and pale green are indications of the summer months.

In an inspired picture, bold use of colours on the horse, and the elegant finely attired rider, present a beautiful contrast. There is an essential use of gold on the turban, the sash and the weapons, but an elegant balance is seen in the unusual combinations of colour. The orange on burnt sienna, the white feather with blue shading against a pale green, the ribbons of different forms, the mane braided with orange lace with delicate pompoms at the ends, the transparency of the beautiful muslin jama against the flat bold colours, a Jadau pendant on a delicate red thread worn on it, the artist has indeed succeeded in creating variety and movement in an otherwise formulaic equestrian portrait.

Raj Singh was a keen patron of paintings, and a number of fine works have survived from his time, he is seen here as a younger man in his twenties, with his unmistakable facial profile and curled side burn. Many later works depict him in visions of royal ease carousing with his women in a garden, or riding elephants.

Mughal influence is apparent in the composition of the painting, as well as in the costumes – the pale malachite background, the tall Aurangzeb period turban, the motifs on the golden sash, and the transparent muslin costume. Painting at Sawar was influenced by Bundi and Mewar with a simplified treatment of line and inspired depictions of animals and birds. Portraits often have angular, small heads. Stylistically related works were painted at Isarda and later at Ragogarh.

Pasricha, Indar. ‘Painting at Sawar and at Isarda in the 17th century’, Oriental Art, XXVI, 3, 1982, pages 257-69.


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