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Folio from a Ragamala series: Madhu Madhavi Ragini
India, Madhya Pradesh, Malwa region
Circa 1660-1680
Opaque watercolor and ink on paper
9 x 6 5/8 in.

Background
This manuscript was produced in Malwa, a region in North-central India that remained under Hindu rule even after the Mughal conquests. The native Hindu rulers in Malwa were from the Rajput (literally "sons of kings") clan. The Rajputs traced their ancestry to the sun, moon or fire gods, and were known for their chivalric code.

This folio, Madhu Madhavi Ragini, relates to a musical mode of the same name and comes from a Ragamala series. A Ragamala is literally a "garland of melody," and the word refers to a specific type of painting that illustrates poems dealing with musical themes. The Ragamala joins three major art forms--music, painting, and poetry--in a unique way. Ragamala paintings often deal with themes of love and depict lovers or a hero and heroine.

How to look at this work

  1. Subject
    This painting depicts a woman running through the rain to meet her lover. The woman is braving the harsh rain and lightning in an effort to reach the man, who is peacefully reclining inside awaiting her arrival. The woman's figure shows motion, and it is easy to imagine her moving in sync with the corresponding musical mode. This is a court painting and, by the architecture in the background and clothing of the figures, we can see that the man and woman belong to royalty.
  2. Theme
    The theme of this painting is love and this is manifested in the anticipation the viewer feels as the woman runs to reach her lover. As the woman is trying to escape the harsh elements to meet the man, she is associated with a type of character that recurs in Indian love literature--one who conquers all obstacles in order to be with her lover.
  3. Mood
    The dramatic mood of the painting is created by the weather, time of day, and expressions of the woman. The rain and lightning create a threatening mood and a need for the woman to rush indoors so quickly. Even the birds, in the upper right hand corner, seem determined to flee the storm. This scene takes place during the annual monsoon season, and it is early evening-the time when the daily rains typically arrive. We can sense the woman's anticipation of getting indoors and reaching her lover, which adds to the excitement of the scene.
  4. Setting
    The architecture and interior in this work show that this scene takes place in a royal Rajput court. The man's bedroom is in a palace, as can be seen from the elegant building surrounding him. Though the palace is not realistically rendered, it is reflective of the typical architecture of Northern India in the16th and 17th Century. Even though this painting was produced for a Hindu court, the main influence on the architecture is Islamic. Typical Islamic elements include the use of marble, linear columns on either side of the room, careful symmetry, and Iranian double domes atop the roof. As he awaits his lover, the man leisurely reclines on a bed in a way that men are often portrayed in painting of this time; the source of his pose is from Mughal painting. Both his furniture and the building itself are adorned with stylized decorations that have Central Asian origins.
  5. Visual style and perspective
    The painting shows a traditional visual style that was characteristic of art from Malwa, with its uniform color and geometric lines. The space of the painting is generally flat and two-dimensional, which imparts a dreamlike, rather than realistic, sense. The man and woman, however, are more carefully modeled because they are the focal points of the painting, showing emotion and movement.

Function
Though Rajput court painting comes from the tradition of illustrated manuscripts, most Rajput paintings were not bound, but were collected and stored like books, until they were brought out to be examined as one would a book.

As mentioned earlier, Ragamalas were meant to conjoin painting, poetry, and music. This painting accompanied a specific musical mode also called Madhu Madhavi Ragini, and was probably created for the royal court at Malwa.

How this object was made
The painting technique used was simple-opaque watercolor on paper. The artist began by laying out the composition with think black ink applied with either a brush or pen. This is called an "underdrawing." The artist could then begin to paint, working from larger diffuse areas to smaller detailed areas. During the process of painting, a work was often burnished, a process that consists of placing the paper face down on a smooth slab of stone and rubbing the back of the paper with a smooth stone. Burnishing gave the painting its smooth surface. One of the last steps was to outline the design elements in black. Artists sat on the floor, working on boards or low tables.

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