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Treasures of Ahmedabad: N.C. Mehta collection and NID.

* N.C. Mehta Collection: Volume I--Gujarati School and Jaina Manuscript Paintings; Volume II--Rajasthani, Central Indian, Pahari and Mughal Paintings, by Ratan Parimoo. Ahmedabad: Gujarat Museum Society, 2010; 2013. Hardcover, 304; 376 pages, illustrated in colour throughout. 3050 [rupee]; 2500 [rupee].

The Gujarat Museum Society's two-volume publication on the N.C. Mehta Collection is a most welcome addition to the field of study of Indian miniature painting. The cataloguing of this collection in the L.D. Museum, Ahmedabad was long overdue, and that formidable task has been successfully accomplished by the renowned art historian and painter Ratan Parimoo. It is more than a conventional catalogue, as Kapila Vatsyayan states in her Foreword: "The undertaking is much more, both in approach as also presentation. Cumulatively it is a comprehensive critique of the historiography of the discourse on evaluating the entire field of miniature painting." The author has undertaken an assiduous, painstaking perusal of a vast body of dispersed material while cataloguing and assessing N.C. Mehta's unique collection comprising paintings from varied schools like Western Indian/Gujarati, Jain, Chaurapanchashika, Malwa, Mewar extended to other Rajasthani schools, and Mughal.

Studying the paintings meticulously, Parimoo has identified the "role of language of Jain style of painting as the abiding aspect of Indian pictorial art as it evolved through the last two thousand years". This style reflects the creative genius of Gujarati painters. The author has established with a specific methodology that there was a Gujarati school of painting which matured during the 15th century. Both N.C. Mehta and Jain scholar Manjulal R. Majmudar had firmly believed and written about it. Parimoo while studying these works also takes into account the early Gita Govinda paintings and the Chaurapanchashika series in a comprehensive and integrated section of the first volume. He establishes Patan as the epicentre of Jain paintings in Gujarat.

Parimoo considers it important to explain the concept of Catalogue Raisonne (Critical Catalogue). It is a part of the methodology evolved by European art historians in the study of Western art, where the attribution of a painting or sculpture to a specific artist at a certain stage of her/his development is one of the parameters. This involves primarily the stylistic aspect together with the psychology of the artist concerned, as exemplified in the art-historical publications of Heinrich Wolfflin. Interpretation and (hermeneutic) understanding of the art object along with the wider ramifications are yet other directions of research, going beyond description and the guessing game of dating. From Catalogue Raisonne emerged New Art History and Erwin Panofsky's explorations in "Iconology". Parimoo studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London during the early 1960s, and here he has attempted to bridge the concepts of Catalogue Raisonne and New Art History.

Volume I

The first volume is divided into six sections through 18 chapters, with three appendices. Chapter 1 which deals with N.C. Mehta recounts the amazing career of the bureaucrat-collector and covers various aspects of his collections. In Chapter 11 Parimoo gives an account of the indigenous Jain-style painting from Gujarat, emphasizing that the patronage given to artists in those years did not take "a narrow sectarian approach".

In the following chapters Parimoo forcefully establishes the appellation "Gujarati school of painting" as opposed to the term "Western Indian school" which was propagated by early art historians including Karl Khandalavala, Moti Chandra, Rai Krishnadas, U.P. Shah and others. The author devotes a whole chapter to the Shringara paintings of the Chaurapanchashika, then turning to the Balagopala Stuti and early Gita Govirtda paintings from the N.C. Mehta Collection.

Parimoo does not restrict his study to the re-narration in the Kalpasutra of the life of Mahavira and the fascinating history of Kalakacharya, but also carefully examines the paintings, discussing the profile and extended eye, and also dwelling on the contribution of Sarabhai Nawab's collection. In Chapter iv Parimoo has listed in a table Jain Kalpasutra painted folios and shown the concordance of episodes. It displays the methodology adopted by him to establish the Gujarati school of painting and its relation with Jain paintings. Chapter V describes the archetypal life of Mahavira and other Tirthankaras with several illustrations. Along with this U.P. Shah's study of the Sangrahani Sutra is also referred to, as presented in his book New Documents of Jaina Painting. The dialogue between Vaishnavas and Jains in this text shows that it was not confined by the narrow rigid categories of religious affiliations.

Chapter VI deals with the Kalakacharya Katha, followed by Chapter vii describing the cosmological illustrations of the Sangrahani Sutra, referred to by Dr U.P. Shah as mentioned above. Parimoo brings in the context of Balagopala Stuti paintings in Chapter VIII that contains a most interesting discussion in which the author differs from other scholars. In Chapter ix he discusses a set of paintings from the Gita Govinda in N.C. Mehta's collection. Parimoo states that this illustrated manuscript was a collaborative enterprise of three artists. He has examined the stylistic individuality of the painters, categorizing them as Jain, Transitional and Liberated. He substantiates this with description and analysis of a painted scroll of the Vasanta Vilasa from Gujarat, now in the Freer Gallery, Washington dc. He states that the two-dimensional pictorial language has great antiquity which can be traced back to Egyptian antecedents. In figures 10-13 on pages 45 and 46 he has juxtaposed figure 10, an Egyptian drawing of a Pharaoh leading consecrated calves (New Kingdom, 1551-1070 BCE) with figure 11 of the Kalpasutra which shows Indra with his three courtiers, dated Vikram Samvat 1605 = 1548 CE. Figure 12, an Egyptian drawing of Mistress and Servants (New Kingdom, 1551-1070 BCE) is compared with figure 13 of King Siddhartha and the servant combing his hair.

Parimoo has shown that the Gita Govinda paintings from N.C. Mehta's collection display close affinity with the depiction of costumes in the Vasanta Vilasa scroll paintings. He considers costume and mode of draping important criteria for attributing specific paintings to different artists. Parimoo has found new evidence of collaboration of two painters within a single painting. He has carefully studied the metaphors in the text to show how these are transformed in the pictorial space. The example of the dominant motif of the Kamadeva figure is an interesting one, as is the analysis of the metaphor and motif of mriga. The Gita Govinda was a part of dance-drama tradition and the painters were familiar with it. As Kapila Vatsyayan, whose work on the Gita Govinda is well known, has observed, one can easily connect the depictions of dancers in this text with the stylistic features of the dance figures in the margins of some of the Jain miniatures like the Devasana pado and Jamnagar Kalpasutra manuscripts.

Parimoo has drawn attention to the first known Jain painter from Gujarat, Daiya, active during the first and second decades of the 15th century. Another painter, Sarang, active during the second half of the same century could be linked with the gentleman-scribe (Mantri Vachhaka) who was an inhabitant of Patan. This therefore strengthens the view that a major centre of Jain-style painting was at Patan, and thus, the terms Patan master and Patan school could be justifiably conceived.

In the supplementing Chapter x on Shringara paintings based on Chaurapanchashika verses, Parimoo gives reasons for considering Gujarat as the provenance of these paintings. The erotic theme has continuity in Bilhana's Chaurapanchashika, the Vasanta Vilasa and the Gita Govinda. In the Chaurapanchashika, Parimoo asserts that the painter has invented the character of the poet in the depiction of the hero, as the poet is the narrator of his own intimate experience of the pleasure of being with a beautiful woman and making love to her. Invariably in the paintings the poet's name Bilhana has been written near the hero's face.

Appendix A consists of an article by M.R. Majmudar on "The Gujarati School of Painting and Some Newly Discovered Vaishnava Miniatures". This is an important article which foregrounds Parimoo's thesis establishing the Gujarati school of painting in place of the earlier nomenclature, Western Indian school of painting,

Volume II

This volume contains chapters on Rajasthani and Pahari schools, the schools of Central India or Bundelkhand and the Mughal school. N.C. Mehta had an eye for portraits, which offers the opportunity to Parimoo to write on Indian artists' competence in the genre of portraiture. Parimoo mentions that Mehta, on account of his love for Shringara literature in Sanskrit and Braja Bhasha, had several paintings on this theme among his holdings. He also added Sultanate, Persian and Nepalese Vajrayana paintings to his collection. A number of fascinating unpublished drawings and a curious set of small paintings are also included in this volume. Thus Parimoo has accomplished the task of providing an idea of the complete range of N.C. Mehta's collection. For Parimoo, it has helped him "to build a comprehensive character of the multifaceted maturity of art of painting in India over five centuries".

Parimoo refers to the bold step taken by B.N. Goswamy and Eberhard Fischer to consider schools of painting and their development not in terms of specific art centres or chief patrons, but instead in terms of the genealogy of artists. The movement of artists to neighbouring kingdoms and artists' interactions, Parimoo argues, could also be explored with greater plausibility. Milo C. Beach, Eberhard Fischer and B.N. Goswamy in their latest exhibition and two-volume publication, Masters of Indian Painting (2011) have taken this exercise further. However, Parimoo also draws attention to a pitfall in the context of the Pahari school. The correlation of artists' dates and the dates of their royal patrons is very specific, so to name any artist as the creator of a painting purely on the basis of the characteristics of his known work would be arbitrary in the absence of other related documentation. Parimoo argues that without exploring such determinants as the artist's predecessors etc., to give credit to an artist for having evolved a new feature out of the blue would be poor methodology. Also, the span of the worthwhile phase of each school of painting needs to be taken into account, especially in the case of Rajasthani schools.

Parimoo continues the methodology of drawing attention to the artist's personality when necessary. He gives the example of an artist like the Mewari Sahibdin, who was a Hindu painter, and refers to his consistent recorded output during the reign of Mewar ruler Jagat Singh. He also refers to the painter of the Chunar Ragamala-, the Master of the first Bundi Rasikapriya series; and the Master of the second Rasikapriya series. Parimoo has identified folios painted by known Bikaner masters such as Ruknudin and Nurudin. Most of Orchha paintings, according to him, seem to be the work of "a single master spread over a period of three to four decades during the middle of the 18th century". He acknowledges that he bases this theory on the reliable genealogy of the rulers of Orchha state published by Kenneth Robbins.

The volume is divided into six sections and 13 chapters with an Appendix. Section 1 concentrates on royal portraits, particularly from Jaipur, Bundi, Mewar, Marwar (Jodhpur) and Bikaner. The folios have been carefully described and analysed, giving details of historical events and names of rulers.

Chapter II deals with Shringara themes in which the Rasikapriya paintings of Mewar, Bundi and Bikaner are described with the corresponding text in Devanagari script. The chapter also includes paintings from Bihari's Satsai, Mewar; the Month of Jyeshtha, Bundi school; and Nayikas and Bathers from Rajasthani schools.

The varied themes of the paintings in this section range from Ganapati, Bundi school; Elephant Family, Kota school; Krishnalila and Sant Kabir with Three Disciples, Bikaner school; Sukdeva Preaching to Parikshita and a Kedar Ragini drawing, Jaipur school. They display N.C. Mehta's careful selection and aesthetic eye.

Parimoo has included Rita Sondhi's seminal article on Rajasthani Ragamala paintings: both Jaipur and other Ragamalas. The description and narrative are interesting, the dohas (couplets) quoted reflecting the mood of each raga. The consistent depiction of musicians in the pictorial tableau comprises the narrative and resultant iconography of the ragas and the raginis. Here we see the tradition of performance closely connected with the tradition of painting.

Section II has three chapters, of which the one on Orchha portraits and court paintings is noteworthy. This is the first time that we come across such portraits of the rajas of Orchha. Baramasa and Ragamala paintings and the Shringara poetry of Matiram are also included in this section.

Section III presents selected drawings of the Pahari school, including depictions of Goddess Sarasvati and Shiva-Parvati, and themes related to Vishnu and Krishnalila, drawings attributed to the artist Laharu, a set of four Ramayana drawings, Nayika drawings and secular drawings. An album of Hindu deities attributed to the family workshop of Mahesh, and a note by Madhu Khanna on the Goddess paintings of Kashmir, offer further material to be relished.

Section IV covers Mughal school paintings including portraits and various subjects, whereas in Section v other schools are discussed with illustrations. These comprise (in separate chapters) Sultanate-period paintings, Persian paintings with text by Nuzhat Kazmi, and Safavid paintings from a 16th-century Persian manuscript. Parimoo offers insights into medieval Asian mystic traditions and the intellectual milieu, including Safavid Persian poetry. Also included are the works of a Mughal Kashmiri master calligrapher of the 16th century and an analysis of an anthology of illuminated folios with varied inscriptions.

In the final section an article by Gautama Vajracharya on Newari Buddhist manuscript paintings from Nepal is included along with one on Folios of Tibetan printed manuscripts. The last chapter has manuscripts of various stotras, Bhaktimala Grantha, an illustration of Meghdoot by artist Shailendranath Dey, and conservation notes on paintings by Vismay Raval.

Parimoo has covered a large canvas. He has with untiring zeal and dedication prepared two volumes which offer us an opportunity to glimpse the vast collection of N.C. Mehta. While Volume 1 provides an account of N.C. Mehta as a collector, the second volume offers a memoir by Rai Anand Krishna about his father Rai Krishnadas and N.C. Mehta.

The Gujarat Museum Society has through the publication of these two volumes fulfilled its debt to N.C. Mehta. Once again Ratan Parimoo deserves full credit for completing this stupendous task with erudition, throwing new light on various aspects of the vast field of Indian painting.

Caption: 1 Sahi Clan Playing Polo and Other Activities, Kalakacharya Katha, Devasana pado bhandara, c. 1510. From N.C. Mehta Collection, Volume 1.

Caption: 2 Hamsa Avatara of Vishnu, attributed to the family workshop of Mahesh, Chamba, c. 1725-75. From N.C. Mehta Collection, Volume 11.


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Author:Kothari, Sunil
Publication:Marg, A Magazine of the Arts
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2016
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