1. MAHARANA ARI SINGH SEATED AT NIGHT
Height: 62 cm Width: 48 cm
Opaque watercolour heightened with gold on paper.
In this wonderfully atmospheric painting, Maharana Ari Singh (reigned 1761-1773) is seated at night with attendant courtiers on a carpeted terrace with gathering monsoon storm clouds and flashes of sinuous gold lightning in the dark sky above. The palace is decorated with blue-and-white Chinese export and Delft tiles. The lower apartment in the foreground of the miniature is the Surya Mahal with its coloured sun relief, the emblem of the Sisodiya Rajputs’ solar ancestry.
The courtiers are identified by a devanagari inscription on the reverse:
sri/ramji/pano 1 sri maharajadhiraja maharanaji sri arasihaji ri surat sriji citrasali upali me birajya thaka itra sardar hajur betha thaka dhaabjo? nagaji dhaabhai rupaji caran? manji ra so keto thako sama bhai beta be..? thaka kako bagji kako durjan sighji babo sagat sighji surat sighji kubar jalo ude sighji (in another hand:) citra siva ro ki do so ori jama samat 1820 ra phagan vid 2 mhe jma.
The courtiers present are the Dhabhais (royal foster brothers) Nagaji and Rupji, Charan[?] Manji, also Baghji (a royal uncle), Durjan Singh, Sagat Singh, Surat Singh and Jhala Udai Singh. The inscription also tells us the name of the artist, Shiva, and gives the date of the painting as samvat 1820/1764 AD. The original Mewar registration number is obscured but another library number “18” remains.
The nimbated Ari Singh leans against a large cushion and smokes a hookah held by a standing attendant while another fans him with a morchal (peacock feather fan). The scene is lit by candles placed on the floor or held by attendants. Seated in front of Ari Singh is a youth who may be his son, though this is unclear from the list of names given by the inscription. An elaborate portable wooden screen, in front of which a small dog with a collar of bells and an enthusiastically wagging tale runs about in excitement, has been brought onto the terrace to form the sumptuous backdrop to the occasion. The theatrical setting for an evening of serene relaxation is the palace architecture itself, with the chinoiserie tiles in the background and the surrounding jalis of myriad designs.
According to Andrew Topsfield, the Chini ri Chitrasali or “Chinese Picture Hall” depicted in the upper portion of the picture is no longer extant. Dating from the reign of Jagat Singh II (1734-1751), it is sometimes referred to in inscriptions as Bari Chitrasali or the “Great Picture Hall”, to distinguish it from the lower and earlier Chini ri Chitrasali that still survives, built by Sangram Singh II (reigned 1710-1734) and sometimes called Choti Chitrasali or the “Small Picture Hall”. We can just make out the abundant variety of subjects on the tiles by their different configurations. With the blind above the doorway leading to the inner chamber of the pavilion rolled up, we can see the figures of two ladies in animated conversation, though at first glance the impression is that they are painted on the door itself.
Below the exotically decorated Chini ri Chitrasali is the Surya Mahal or “Sun Apartments”, where the medallion orb in basso-relievo is flanked by walls set with frescoed dadoes and multi-coloured glass panels in cusped niches between elaborate fluted pillars. Beneath the nimbus is a fresco depicting elephants in combat. According to Topsfield, the Surya Mahal was already known as such in the time of Captain (later Lieutenant-Colonel) James Tod, the first British Political Agent and future historian of Rajasthan, who resided in Udaipur from 1818 to 1822. Tod describes the Surya Mahal in his Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, vol. I, p. 551 and describes in vol. II, p. 659 the solar symbol as “a huge painted sun of gypsum in high relief, with gilded rays”.
Compare Andrew Topsfield, Paintings from Rajasthan in the National Gallery of Victoria, 1980; p. 118, no.167, colour pl. 14 for a slightly later, similar subject by the artist Bhakta dated 1765.
A 1762 painting by Sahaji depicting “Maharana Ari Singh at Leisure with his Nobles in the Palace” has the same setting of the Chini ri Chitrasali above the Surya Mahal. This is illustrated in the Simon Ray Indian & Islamic Works of Art catalogue, 2015, pp. 110-115, cat. no. 48. Here Ari Singh is seen twice, once playing chaupar on the terrace and once in the hall below listening to music. These various examples show that these apartments were a favourite place for Ari Singh to relax in the evening.
Mewar Royal Collection, inventory number 18
Spink and Son, London, 1987
Private English Collection 1994-2018
Exhibited and published:
Spink and Son, London, Indian & Islamic Works of Art, Monday, 27th April to Friday 22nd May 1992, pp. 74-75, cat. no. 58.
We would like thank Andrew Topsfield for his expert advice and kind reading of the inscriptions.
1. Andrew Topsfield, Paintings from Rajasthan in the National Gallery of Victoria, 1980; p. 118.
2. Ibid. Tod’s observations quoted by Topsfield are from James Tod (ed. W. Crooke), Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, vols. I and II, 1920, reprinted, 1971.