Maharana Bhim Singh with a hawk

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  • Catalogue text

    During the second half of the 18th century the Rajput kingdoms suffered a general decline along with the central Mughal power, being ravaged repeatedly by Maratha invaders from the south. Peace and order were only restored when the Mahārājas accepted British protection in 1818. These decades of adversity encouraged a hedonistic tendency in the once formidable Rajput nobility. One such escapist was Mahārāna Bhīm Singh for fifty years the ruler of Mewar (1778-1828). Colonel Tod, who knew him well, writes in his Annals and antiquities of Rajasthan: “…though able, wise and amiable, his talents were nullified by numerous weak points. Vain shows, frivolous amusements, and an ill-regulated liberality alone occupied him…”. Weak willed and uninterested in administration, Bhim Singh fathered more than a hundred children. Intimate scenes of his private life as well as his public appearances were often painted by Chokha, one of the leading Mewar artists, whose squat well-rounded and large-eyed figures are very distinctive. Most of Chokha’s pictures are small scale works on paper: larger cloth-paintings such as this are generally rare in Rajasthani painting.

    Although at first sight a conventional standing portrait of a ruler after the earlier Mughal manner, Chokha’s depiction of his rotund and hairy-chested patron is unusually informal. Bhīm Singh stands nonchalantly with one foot tucked behind the other – the bejewelled hawk on the royal finger also perches on one leg – with a flowered gold sash (paṭka) swathed round his ample hips. However, the Mahārāṇa’s head is shown in full glory, the gold and green nimbus and the crescent moon symbolising the divine ancestors of the Mewar rulers. The painting, which has suffered from water-staining at the left side, is inscribed with Bhīm Singh’s name and a valuation of 20 rupees (written on the side of the sub-nosed, Chokha-esque dog).

    In: Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987)

Further reading

Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987), no. 90 on p. 81, pl. 17 (colour) & p. 81

Topsfield, Andrew, Indian Paintings from Oxford Collections, Ashmolean Handbooks (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum in association with the Bodleian Library, 1994), no. 37 on p. 76, p. 6, illus. p. 77

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