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The Royal Ateliers of Rajasthan

The Rajasthani miniaturs evolved styles that became apparent in the different kingdoms where if found patronage. Used initially as illustrations for texts, they evolved later as portfolios of the life and times of their royal patrons.

In Rajasthan, there were seven distinctive styles of what are also referred to as Rajput paintings, and they evolved in the following seven states:

Bikaner: One of the finest schools of miniatures developed in this desert state. Early examples exist from 1600 on and show a marked Mughal influence. In fact, the local style kept pace with the painters in the Mughal court, and were expressive of their nuances, even while the Bikaneri artist tended to be more expressive. There have been cases of Mughal and Bikaneri miniatures being mistaken for each other, even though the paintings used backgrounds and colourscapes that are more pleasant, and the foliage (as if to make up for the desert conditions), more luxuriant. There is a palette of delicate sub colours, and a delicacy in the portrayal of human and vegetational forms.

Bundi and Kota: Though the two ateliers eventually developed separate identities, they began with marked common identities. The result of the rise of the school of miniatures here was the result of Mughal intervention that blended the two traditions of illustrating court, scenes. From the beginning, however, the differences are discernible. The human figures appear to have a haunting, if fleshier, appearance, and are not marked by formal austerity. The early works are commissions for illustrating traditional texts such as Ragamala and Rasikapriya. Later, the school took to the eulogistion of its patron kings, in both the portraits and the court scenes they tended to paint.

As the ateliers developed, as elsewhere, hunting scenes captured the fancy of the artist, but here these evolved into an entire school of its own from roughly 1700 on. Marked by a particular green tint, these paintings idealised the landscape, including the forestscape, a tradition that was to continue. There was also an evolvement of the depiction of feminine grace in groups of young women leading to works that are more colourful, and more creatively handled.

In the Bundi school, the background usually consists of thick foliage, with a sky overladen with clouds and illuminated by the light of the setting sun. Where used, the architectural background is equally impressive, with palaces and apartments depicted in fine detail. There is a lyrical expression of love that permeates the paintings, and ornamental backgrounds.

The same style evolved in Kota, but drifted away to develop its own expression in a similar but independent form.

Kishangarh: For sheer lyricism and romance, there is nothing that matches the sheer brilliance of the Kishangarh artist, even though the flame of its brilliance lasted only a short while. A Rathore kingdom, the early work is similar to that of the ateliers of Marwar. A more advanced style replaced this in the first quarter of the 18th century, and reached a point of perfection wunder the patronage of Savant Singh, the heir to the throne of Kishngarh who finally abdicted in favour of his son and chose to live a hermit's life in Brindavan.

Under Savant Singh's tutelage, and the brush of one of the finest painters of the period, Nihal Chand, a school of paintings dealing with Krishana and his lady love, Radha, emerged. It is believed that the figures of Krishna were modelled on Savant Singh, and his mistress nicknamed Bani Thani, was the role model for Radha. Certainly, portraits of Bani Thani, are among the most attractive among miniatures anywhere in India, and she obviously inspired Nihal Chand to cast her as Radha in his Ras Leela scenes.

The Kishangarh figures are exceptionally attractive, and show a refined delicacy. The backgrounds share the elaborate styling of Mughal paintings, but the artist in Kishangarh has used a greater expression of creative freedom. The artists tended to favour the use of evening light, with grey skies setting off the fine colours of the rest of the subject of their canvas. However, the fine temperament lasted only a few decades, but its outstanding contribution ranks it among the finest body of work to find expression in a canvas of such elaborate colours.

Jaipur: The Jaipur gharana of miniatures, while still active, was also its most formal. Akin to the Mughal in its use of backgrounds, and in the use of court setting, it differed in the subjected that spanned a more secular range. Of all the schools in Rajasthan, Jaipur's use of colours is the most nderstated. Its depiction of scenes of nature, no doubt inspired by Jehangir, too are exceptional.

Marwar: The Rathore kingdoms tended to depict similar characteristics for, though they were often at loggerheads, they were also inspired by the same creative expressions. They went on to become patrons for some of the greatest collection of Sanskrit and vernacular texts, and commissioned paintings on a generous scale.

Their miniature style, which is best seen in the works of the artist at Jodhpur, merges it with the traditional depiction of the human figure which, by the 18th century, had been perfected. The faces are accentuated, the eyes are large and curving (in what have come to be referred to as 'Jodhpuri eyes'), the turbans are worn high, and while they sit or stand or ride, the men are shown with a sense of vibrant enery. Even paintings showing rulers practicing religious rituals are not devoid of this quality of vibrancy. The background tend to be characteristic too with thick, rich decorative leaves of trees, and skies enriched with thick, rolling clouds. Aniline colours too are an important feature.

Mewar: One of the largest ateliers in Rajasthan was to be found in Udaipur where, from the beginning of the 17th century till the end of the 19th, there has been an uninterrupted progression in miniature art. The main theme, with few exceptions, consisted of the traditional texts that ranged from the Ragamala, Nayika-bhada and Krishna Leela to the Ramayana and the Bhagvata Purana. Scenes from the Krishana leela came to be known for their amorous qulity. One of the first defivitive sets of Ragamala paintings, dated 1605, and executed by painter Nasiruddin, still feature in the collection at Udaipur.

The Mewar schools is celebrated for its strong colours and decorative designs. The landscape has been emphasised so that the human figures tend to integrate with it, The decorative features were further accentuated with Mughal crossfertilisation when a mosaic-like, decoracter character evolved, especially with regard to foliage. Later, lifestyle portraits developed in the Sisodia atelier, replacing nature in a sense with the background of the palaces of the Ranas.

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