Portrait-Images of Maharajas of Marwar in Garden Landscapes

A row of trees, colourful and seasonal flowers, and a flock of ducks gliding by on a lake beyond the trees can be said to function as agents of emotion enhancing the figure of the Maharaja of Marwar seated on a terrace. The enlarged figure of the king is the central focus of the composition; in which organic and natural life surround his immediate landscape.[1] This cluster of non-human actors circling the king suggests the aura and reach of the king upon the lands and its inhabitants ruled by him. The flowers blooming in the flowerbeds, along with the cascading waters of the fountain in the front register, further suggest the quality and characteristics of his rule, which is lush, verdant and abundant, similar to the blooming trees shown in the landscape.

How do illustrations with historic Maharajas shown in luxurious, green landscapes express emotions, and where do these lie? Does their expression in the form of bountiful nature visualised in the image produce “felt” emotions in the viewer?

Fig. 1 Maharaja Bhim Singh (1793 – 1803) in vilāsā mood with his consort, sitting under a shamiana (canopy) with attendants, Marwar, c. 19th century, Opaque watercolour and gold on paper, Size: 42 x 32 cms, Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India, © His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur

The mood of vilāsā or pleasure is suggested in the gesture of holding a flower in Maharaja Bheem Singh’s hand (See Fig. 1), and the gesture of condiments being offered to him by his consort, seated on the carpet in front of the king. Although the Maharaja is shown experiencing the mood of leisure, seated in the verdant surroundings and appreciating the texture, form and fragrance of the flower in his hand, his eyes are focused far in the distance. This gesture suggests that the Maharaja, although inhabiting the natural world with his consort, remains detached from it.

Four ladies-in-waiting are shown standing on the floral carpet, surrounding the royal couple. Three ladies are carrying flywhisks and the fourth lady carries refreshments to serve the king. An elaborately embroidered maroon and gold canopy provides shade to the royal couple, fitted on the open veranda overlooking a serene lake with rolling hills visible beyond. Soft white fluffy clouds float in the sky above this scene of leisure and pleasure.

A built structure is visible on the left, behind the seated figure of the Maharaja. The walls of the building are filled with niches, in which vases with clusters of flowers are placed. The doorways and windows are draped with finely embroidered maroon, green and gold textiles, drawing attention of the viewer into cooler and intimate chambers.

The focus of the composition is the historic portrait of Maharaja Bheem Singh (r. 1793 – 1803), drawn from life. The distinct profile is composed of finely drawn lines, giving shape to the features of the well-formed charming face of the king. The facial hair of the moustache joining the sideburns in a unique fashion style, further enhances the distinguished portrait. The king also wears the distinctive tall turban of his Rathore family. 

The Maharaja is not shown alone; his beloved consort accompanies him. This position of the maharaja is significant, as the king required a lover to experience the mood of vilāsā. It cannot be experienced in isolation, in the absence of his lover. If that were the case, then the Maharaja would be experiencing the emotion of painful longing, and the same elements – the luscious and verdant gardens, the fragrance of flowers, the birds, and the exquisite textiles would act as agents of despondency, rather than the emotion of joyful love-play. With his consort by his side, the maharaja can enjoy the delights of the fresh and abundantly green landscape to experience the emotion of pleasure and abundance.

Francesca Orsini notes, “In Sanskrit and related poetics, natural elements such as rain, clouds, lightning, specific objects like swings, the bed, and animals like the hawk-cuckoo (papiha), frogs (dadur), peacocks (mor), red-lac insects (bir-bahuti) and moths (patinga) are called ‘stimulants’ (uddipana) – because they stimulate, bring to light a particular emotion (bhāvā) in the poetic character and in the ‘emotionally attuned listener’.”[2]

In the painting discussed above, the Maharaja is brimming with love, life and beauty, surrounded by natural elements – various species of trees, birds, flowers, embroidered canopies, carpets, fragrances and jewels – all acting as ‘stimulants’ for the mood of vilāsā. Flowers lend their beauty and fragrance, ducks and geese embody purity and wisdom (they remain in water and yet the water never clings to their feathers; in the same way a spiritually enlightened soul lives in the world, yet is never contaminated by it), the water cascading down the fountain embodies movement and mobility, the sound of the flowing water suggests rejuvenation, freshness and the cool breeze is aided by the moisture from the fountain. Textiles with embroidery in gold suggest wealth, fine taste, consumption of fine fabrics, talented artisans in the employment of the court and the demand for and of exquisite fabrics.

To the viewer of the image, the emotional vectors suggested by these elements, appear as agents for the emotion of vilāsā or pleasure.[3]  Such illustrations were painted abundantly in the court of Marwar kings in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, marking a sharp change from the standing portrait images of the rajas by Mughal court artists in the seventeenth centuries.

These standing portraits of Marwar kings (See Fig. 2) were illustrated in the standard formulae evolved during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605) in the sixteenth century. Akbar ordered portraits of his courtiers and noblemen, grandees of the realm, who were ruling in far flung areas of his kingdom. 

The portrait-images were often single standing studies of the subject, shown in profile with distinct portrait features, placed on a low horizon, with a background of celadon green. The figure of the raja is not depicted with his lands, gardens, jewels or wealth, and subsequently, there is no attempt at expressing any emotion or bhāvā in these royal portraits. These single-standing portraits functioned as pictorial records of the emperor’s male relatives, Mughal empire officers and administers, including prominent Rajput rulers and nobles, often bound together in albums for easy reference.  

However, during the reign of Maharaja Jaswant Singh (r. 1638-78) who served as a Mughal military commander like his grandfather and father before him, a new visual aesthetic was explored in images of Marwar maharajas, which saw the development of a new artistic and aesthetic genre, namely, the Maharajas of Marwar in Garden Landscapes. The production of images recording the history of successive Maharajas re-set within the continuum of organic life indicated a desire for the patron and artist to shape an independent imperial identity, linked with the distinct landscape of Marwar.


Crill, Rosemary. Marwar Painting: A History of the Jodhpur Style, India Book House Limited, Mumbai, 1999

Diamond, Debra. in “Monumental Manuscripts at the Jodhpur Court,” Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur, Thames & Hudson, 2008

Imke Rajamani, “Learning How to Feel the Monsoon” in Monsoon Feelings: A History of Emotions in the Rain, eds. Imke Rajamani and Margrit Pernau and Katherine Butler Schofield, Niyogi Books, 2018

Ingold, Tim. “The Temporality of the Landscape.” World Archaeology 25, no. 2 1993, 152–74. http://www.jstor.org/stable/124811.

Khera, Dipti .The Place of Many Moods: Udaipur’s painted lands and India’s eighteenth century, Princeton University Press, 2020

Leoshko, Janice. Pleasure Gardens of the Mind: Indian Paintings from the Jane Greenough Green Collection, eds. Pratapaditya Pal, Stephen Markel, Janice Leoshko, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Mapin Publishing Pvt, Ltd., Ahmedabad, 1993

Losty, Jeremiah P. A Secret Garden: Indian Paintings from the Porret Collection, eds. B N Goswamy, Jeremiah P. Losty and John Seyller, Museum Rietberg, Zurich, 2014

[1] Here, I am citing Tim Ingold, where he focuses beyond the sterile opposition between the naturalistic view of the landscape as a neutral, external backdrop to human activities, and the culturalistic view that every landscape is a particular cognitive or symbolic ordering of space.  Tim Ingold in “The temporality of the landscape”, World Archeology, Volume 25, No 2, 1993 pp. 152–74. http://www.jstor.org/stable/124811, accessed on 28.12.2022

[2] Francesca Orsini in “Clouds, Cuckoos and an Empty Bed: Emotions in Hindi-Urdu Barahmasas,” Monsoon Feelings: A History of Emotions in the Rain, eds. Imke Rajamani, Margrit Pernau and Katherine Butler Schofield, Niyogi Books, 2018, p. 102

[3] Ibid.

Cite this blog post
Dipanwita Donde (2023, January 30). Portrait-Images of Maharajas of Marwar in Garden Landscapes. BILDERFAHRZEUGE. Retrieved March 3, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/m0ly

Dipanwita Donde

Dipanwita Donde completed her PhD in Visual Studies, specializing in Mughal Art, from School of Arts and Aesthetic, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in 2017. Dipa received the SYLFF fellowship, the SRA fellowship for research abroad and the Nehru Memorial Trust fellowship during the period of her PhD research. She studied Persian, particularly medieval Persian poetry under Prof. Syed Akhtar Husain. She spent one year as a subject expert, art historical researcher and co-curator of an exhibition of Indian miniature paintings at Staatliche Kunstammlungen Dresden, Germany. She has delivered several lectures and participated in seminars and conferences, including Kupferstich-Kabinett, Dresden; York University, Toronto; Indian Institute of Persian Studies, Mumbai and Kolkata; India International Centre, New Delhi; and International Conference on Greek Studies, JNU. She has contributed her writings as special writer and subject expert to “The Body Ideal: Heroic” in The Body in Indian Art and Thought, Ministry of Culture-ICCR, Europalia 2013 Her essay was published in the exhibition catalogue, Miniature Geschiten Die Malerei Im Dresden Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and was reprinted in the www.criticalcollective.in. Dipa has spent 18 months as the manager in the Department of Collection, Management and Research of Indian Modern Art at the Delhi Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2017-2018.

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