A Maiden Approaches a Nobleman
Kishangarh, circa 1740
Ink drawing with gouache and gold on paper
10 ½ x 8 ¼ in. (26.7 x 21 cm.)
Doris Wiener Gallery.
A naturalistically depicted elder nobleman seated against a bolster puffs from the metal tip of a winding hookah stem, his eyes half shut with a sheathed sword and shield laid out before him. A beautiful young maiden looks intently out from behind a screen, coyly hiding part of her body as if trying to be careful not to be seen. Her angular face with its pointed nose and chin, pursed mouth, almond-shaped eye and high brow, and black hair tied back with three curls placed over her cheek remind the viewer of Bani Thani–a poetess and courtesan, considered the epitome of idealized Kishangarh beauty.
The scene could be the old man’s intoxicated dream–a glimpse into the memory of a past love, now elevated to perfection in the noble’s thoughts. Conversely, the maiden could be taking the position of the archetypal seductress, a universal subject serving as a trope of the older man’s desire for a youthful woman.
This is an enigmatic scene often found in paintings from Kishangarh and particularly from the period of the artist Nihal Chand (ca. 1710-1782), whose training in the Imperial Mughal workshops at Delhi helped him create a popular new style that combined Mughal naturalism with the romantic, poetic idealization beloved at Kishangarh. The signature Kishangarh style began to develop under Raj Singh (r. 1706-1748), and reached full fledged actualization under Sawant Singh (r. 1748-1764). As the present painting dates to the mid-1700s, we know it was executed under one of these rulers’ reigns. As such, it is a delightful example of the evolution of Kishangarh painting during the century. This idyllic, amatory manner so-valued within the realm is well suited for the depiction of bhakti, the ecstatic longing for the divine often anthropomorphized as Radha’s love for Krishna.