It’s all in the Detail: Exploring India’s Textile Traditions

The weaving and embroidery techniques seen in Indian textiles open windows into the symbolic, cultural and ritual beliefs of the people who created them.

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Motichand Khajanchi’s Legacy of Rajasthani Miniatures

The history of collecting classical Indian art in modern India is full of remarkable personalities. Karl Khandalavala, chairman of the Prince of Wales Museum (now the CSMVS Museum) from 1958-1995, was one of the most influential scholars in the field. He advised several early collectors, including Colonel R K Tandan and Khorshed Kharanjavala. In 2015, Saffronart auctioned a selection of miniatures and sculptures from their collections. The auction’s success, and the record prices it achieved point to a growing interest in acquiring quality works that represent a centuries-old tradition. In its upcoming sale, Saffronart presents yet another exemplary selection of miniature paintings from the collection of Motichand Khajanchi.

Motichand Khajanchi collected some of the finest miniatures in Rajasthan.

Motichand Khajanchi collected some of the finest miniatures in Rajasthan.

Motichand Khajanchi was born into a family of jewellers, whose patrons included the royal family of Bikaner. Following his father into the family business, Khajanchi travelled across the country and encountered diverse artistic traditions. He began collecting his first miniature paintings aged 15. The paintings he sought out, often buying them at locally held auctions, were also among the finest he collected. He spent heavily on them, often landing in trouble with his father in his early years, but also earned the friendship of artists and scholars who influenced him.

As Khajanchi’s collection grew, he was recognised as an authority on Rajasthani miniatures. He pored over old handwritten manuscripts that deepened his understanding of the literary and religious references in the paintings. When Rai Krishnadasa, a renowned art historian and the founder of Bharat Kala Bhawan in Varanasi visited Khajanchi, he was impressed with the quality of his collection. Krishnadasa suggested that Khajanchi lend some of his works to be displayed in a museum to benefit and educate the public. A selection of important works from Khajanchi’s collection, curated by Krishnadasa and Karl Khandalavala, was exhibited at the Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta in 1960, and published in the accompanying catalogue. Some remain in the collection of the National Museum, New Delhi.

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Saffronart’s upcoming Classical Indian Art Auction features some of the most exquisite Rajasthani miniatures from Khajanchi’s collection. They include paintings from Bikaner, Mewar, Jaipur, Bundi, Kishangarh and Jodhpur.

Some of the paintings carry artist signatures on the reverse, and a few are from the personal collection of the Royal Family of Bikaner, making them all the more covetable.

Saffronart’s live auction of Classical Indian Art is on 9 March 2017 at the Saffronart gallery in Mumbai. It is preceded by viewings from 3 – 9 March 2017.

Raqib Shaw’s ‘Paradise Lost’ at Pace Gallery

Ipshita Sen of Saffronart shares a note on Raqib Shaw’s current exhibition at Pace Gallery.

New York: Raqib Shaw once again makes his mark in the New York public art scene. With his last show in 2008 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this year Pace Gallery holds a three-venue exhibition of the artist.


Arrival of the Ram King – PARADISE LOST II, 2011-2013. Oil, acrylic, enamel, glitter and rhinestones on Birch wood

 The exhibition titled ‘Paradise Lost’ is based on the theme of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. His works are a blend of Indian mythological figures, half man half beast, warring through renaissance inspired landscapes. They are an interesting juxtaposition between Indian miniatures and classical Western architecture. This series of work portrays the triumph of the East over the West –illustrated through the shattered monuments depicted in the works.

His artistic oeuvre is unique and distinctive. Sir Norman Rosenthal says that “Shaw creates truly modern transformations of lost worlds of culture that arise from the exotic gardens of Kashmir to the memories that lie ‘imprisoned’ in the great museums of the Western World.”

Raqib Shaw is born in Calcutta and educated in London. He has had a solo exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2006 and several other group shows.

This exhibition is on until January 11, 2014

Waseem Ahmed: Pious Fear

Ambika Rajgopal of Saffronart shares a note on Waseem Ahmed’s current exhibition in Geneva

London: Geneva’s Gowen Contemporary announced the first solo exhibition in Switzerland of the Pakistani miniaturist Waseem Ahmed. In 2010, his work had already been exhibited at Gowen Contemporary in a group show entitled Have I Ever Opposed You? New Art from India and Pakistan.

Fragmentation 7, Waseem Ahmed, Lot 140, Saffronart Autumn Art Auction

Fragmentation 7, Waseem Ahmed, Lot 140, Saffronart Autumn Art Auction. Image Credit:

Ahmed contemporizes the traditional miniature style of painting by addressing relevant ongoing issues. His previous works saw reinterpretations of traditional myths and legends, but in this series he tackles the subject of the female presence in a patriarchal authoritarian system. His use of delicate brush strokes and fine detailing, contrasts against the graphic designing of his work.

In the work above, the painting is stratified into three parts. The background staying true to the miniature style is rendered in delicate brushstrokes- foliage against an orange evening sky. The middle ground shows a sea of burka-clad women- an identity-less mass of blue. In the foreground that dominates more than half the painting, a silver wall stands, on which are embossed guns that on first sight might not be visible.  The work alludes to the atrocities against women behind the seemingly secure walls of home.

Untitled, Waseem Ahmed, Lot 137, Saffronart Autumn Art Auction

Untitled, Waseem Ahmed, Lot 137, Saffronart Autumn Art Auction. Image Credit:

Two of Waseem Ahmed’s works are being auctioned in Saffronart Autumn Online Auction on September 24-25 2013.

The exhibition will be on until October 18, for more information click here.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia – Part V

Josheen Oberoi of Saffronart explores the stunning new galleries of Islamic art at the Met, a few centuries at a time.

New York: This is the last in a series of posts that came out of my visit to the Islamic Art collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and a consequent conversation with Dr. Maryam Ekhtiar, an Associate Curator in the Department of Islamic Art there.  This art collection is presented in fifteen new galleries that opened to the public after an eight year renovation in November last year.

The galleries are titled Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia. Dr. Ekhtiar, in speaking of the nomenclature of the collections, said, “the name of the galleries speaks to the parameters of our collection, our department’s collection”.  Instead of the overarching phrase “Islamic Art” that suggests a monolithic construction of an Islamic culture; this title is in fact a clue to the physical and historical reconfiguration of these galleries, and a particularly apt one in these times of misleading narratives of Islam worldwide.

Through the course of my conversation with Dr. Ekhtiar we walked chronologically through the numbered galleries (Galleries 450 – 464) that are organized by geographical regions and time periods (from ca. 7th century AD through ca. 20th century). I have followed the same chronology here, bringing us today to the last two galleries 463 and 464 showing Mughal and later South Asian art.

Here’s the very useful museum map again, to help follow the information:

Floor Plan of New Galleries
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

We haven’t discussed South Asia previously but the time period (16th – 20th centuries) that we will look at today is contemporary to the arts of Safavids and later Iran and the overlap and exchange of culture is visible in the artistic forms of the time as well. Gallery 463, for example, presents the arts of the Sultanate, Mughal and Deccan courts from about 1450 through the nineteenth century. This gallery contains an extensive selection of jeweled arts that were practiced in South Asia, including jade carving (which was highly prized in China and was part of a commercial exchange with it). But like in Gallery 462, the two object forms that immediately capture attention are the carpets and the illustrated manuscripts’ folios.

Carpet with Scrolling Vines and Blossoms
Object Name: Carpet
Date: ca. 1650
Geography: Northern India or Pakistan, Kashmir or Lahore
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The scrolling vegetal designs that we saw in last week’s post are visible in the image on the left as well. The carpet below, on the other hand, with a niche that nestles a flowering plant, appears to be designed vertically and possibly for hanging on the wall rather than laying on the ground.

Carpet with Niche and Flower Design
Object Name: Carpet
Date: mid-17th century
Geography: India or Pakistan, Kashmir or Lahore
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Interestingly, these styles remained active in the Iranian and South Asian regions. The early 20th century example below, from a Saffronart auction in March this year displays a combination of these design details – the visible Arabesque niche in the carpet is occupied by intricate and delicate flora and fauna, surrounded by a border.

“Akbar Hunting with Cheetahs”, Folio from an Akbarnama
Painting attributed to Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624)
Object Name: Illustrated album leaf
Date: ca. 1604
Geography: India
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Illustrated manuscripts, similarly, remained an active part of the region through the 20th century as indicated by the folios on display in this gallery and in Gallery 464. Akbar, considered the greatest Mughal rulers (r. 1556 – 1605), established royal ateliers and commissioned illustrated manuscripts, including the Akbarnama that was a chronicle of his reign.

His successors Jahangir (r. 1605-27) and Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58) continued this patronage,an example of which is the exquisite Padshahnama, or the Shah Jahan Album illustrated through the 1640s. These reigns saw a diversity of manuscript production that included Indian, Persian and European elements (like linear perspective and European motifs). A few of the folios shown below evidence this multitude of subjects like studies of animals, flora and fauna, portraiture,mythological narratives that were produced simultaneously at that time. It also underlines the development of a unique idiom within the South Asian region in the arts of the book both linking it to and distinguishing it from the Safavid and later Iran workshops.

“Rama Receives Sugriva and Jambavat, the Monkey and Bear Kings”, Folio from a Ramayana
Object Name: Folio from an illustrated manuscript
Reign: Akbar (1556–1605)
Date: ca. 1605
Geography: India
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Madonna and Child in a Domestic Interior
Painting by Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624)
Object Name: Illustrated single work
Date: early 17th century
Geography: India
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Shah Jahan on a Terrace, Holding a Pendant Set With His Portrait”, Folio from the Shah Jahan Album
Painting by Chitarman (active ca. 1627–70)
Object Name: Album leaf
Reign: Shah Jahan (1628–58)
Date: recto: 1627–28; verso: ca. 1530–50
Geography: India
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Black Buck”, Folio from the Shah Jahan Album
Painting attributed to Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624)
Object Name: Album leaf
Reign: Jahangir (1605–27), recto
Date: recto: ca. 1615-20; verso: ca. 1530–50
Geography: India
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Adventures of Hamza or the Hamzanama was another narrative commissioned by Akbar that recounted the stories of Hamza, an uncle of Prophet Mohammad.

“Misbah the Grocer Brings the Spy Parran to his House”, Folio from a Hamzanama (The Adventures of Hamza)
Attributed to Dasavanta
Artist: Attributed to Mithra
Object Name: Folio from an illustrated manuscript
Reign: Akbar (1556–1605)
Date: ca. 1570
Geography: India
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Both Galleries 463 and 464 also have folios from the Islamic Deccan courts and later 19th century court arts of the Jain, Rajput, Pahari and “Company” style paintings. These are placed in conjunction with the Islamic art galleries to  accurately represent the continuum of South Asian art, not compartmentalized by religion. There was a rich dialog between the two contemporaneous traditions that is visible throughout these galleries.

For example, the image below on the left, of a nobleman on a terrace is an 18th century folio from a late Islamic Mughal center in Bengal, and on display in these galleries. The image on the right, from a Saffronart auction in April this year is the portrait of a Hindu Bikaneri maharaja. Such cross currents in portraiture, amongst other subjects, is a constant in these artistic traditions.

Portrait of a Maharaja
Late 17th Century
Bikaner School

Nobleman on a Terrace
Object Name: Illustrated single work
Date: ca. 1780
Geography: India, Murshidabad
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ragamala paintings, also available for viewing, are a pictorial narrative mode for musical notes (ragas) that originated in the Islamic Deccan kingdoms but found their way to the ateliers of princely states in Rajasthan.

And finally, the “Company” school paintings, shown in Gallery 464 often documented the flora, fauna, topography and people of the land. These watercolors were commissioned by the British and executed by Indian painters in a European style.

Chronologically the last space in the newly configured galleries that we have been visiting over the last few posts, Gallery 464 can also be physically entered and understood independent of the remaining galleries.However, that is true of any of the fifteen galleries. Choosing your personal path through these spaces engenders a distinct experience each time.

Text (calligraphy), shapes (geometric, vegetal, figural, flora, fauna, zoomorphic), materials (ceramic, wood, metals, paper, textile), techniques (luster-painted, gilded, enameled, painted, carved), objects (utilitarian, luxurious,  decorative, religious) – these are just a few of the forms that can be conceptually and visually followed through these galleries. Recurring, in various ways, in various objects, they tell a story of a cultural continuum, not an overarching structure – this is a testament to the impeccably curated experience of these new galleries.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this ride with me. The Saffronart blog hopes to keep taking you along for more of these!

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