Here is another meticulous book, well thought out and jointly authored by two scholars of select works of Indian painting covering nearly seven hundred years of its history. The framework within which the authors, John Guy and Jorrit Britschgi, write is interesting and engaging. They have some interesting details and include recent research analysis. Coming from the Metropolitan Mu-seum of Art, New York and the Mapin Publishing House, as this book/catalogue is, the design and quality of print and colour plates is excellent. A pleasure to go through the book,
which is initially a catalogue of an important exhibition, also entitled ‘Wonder of the Age: Masters Painters of India, 1100-1900’, a collaborative exercise involving two Museums, the Museum Reitberg in Zurich and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and many scholars from all over the world.
The painting on the cover of Shah Jahan riding a stallion sets a cheerful note to the book and is remarkable for its many inherent qualities. It is a page from the Kevorkian Album, created in the Mughal imperial atelier at Agra, ca. 1628. The sophisticated palette, technique and pictorial composition are impressive. The painting is in a category of realist illusionism, but not of the nature coming from Europe, the centre of the renaissance of classical perspective and foreshortening that combined with other techniques to produce the powerful idiom of mirror like illusionism. This renaissance illusionism was the hallmark of much of the art produced in Europe since the fifteenth century. It travelled to other places in Asia through the emissaries, who carried books, prints and paintings to the courts of monarchs. This mode of transport was responsible for its introduction in the Mughal Court as early as 1580, when the Jesuit priests, in the hope of new converts and an enhanced sphere of influence carried with them the polyglot Bible, amply illustrated and richly embellished with realistic and symbolic narrative engravings, produced in limited editions at the Plantin workshop in Antwerp, Europe. The painting placed on the cover is a product of this historical fact that generated an unprecedented interest in the technique of realist illusionism and its related techniques which persisted and evolved into an extra-ordinary visual language. This Indian creative amalgamation peculiar for its formal strength and forceful repertoire, was indeed quite dis-similar to the dense European realism. What we have right in front of us as we ...
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