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Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent

CAT. NO. 48

Vishnu and Lakshmi Rajasthan (Jaipur), late eighteenth-century

Fol. 26 from an early nineteenth-century album | Painting in opaque watercolour including gold metallic paint; set into margins of dyed and gold-flecked paper with opaque watercolour and gold metallic ornament; on multi-layered paper support | 43.1 × 29.3 cm (folio); 20.8 × 13.0 cm (image) | RCIN 1005113.ab

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According to sanatana dharma, the ‘eternal law’ of Hinduism, all creation emanates from a single Absolute Consciousness which is made manifest in the diverse pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses. Among them, the trimurti of Brahma 'the Creator’, Vishnu ‘the Preserver’ and Shiva ‘the Transformer’ in their various forms are supreme. As part of Hindu worship, murti or votive images are venerated as physical embodiments of the Divine. Here Vishnu, in his para (‘highest’) form and his consort Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, are depicted as if idols on a pedestal but also as real, physical beings. He wears a tall crown with a nimbus surrounding his head like the emperors of earlier Mughal paintings.[183] She is dressed as a princess adorned with fine jewellery holding a lotus flower in one hand.

Devotion to Vishnu and his ten earthly incarnations (see cat. nos 59, 60 and 64) is particularly prevalent in the north of the subcontinent. The height of the figures, their wide lotus eyes, the use of heavily stippled shading, and the terrace setting characterise many Rajasthani and Bengali paintings of the late eighteenth century which owe much to the influence of earlier Delhi and Awadhi artists.[184]

  • [183] For the appropriation of Mughal imperial emblems in Rajput painting see Singh 2013.

    [184] See Losty 2014, pp. 82–105 and Leach 1995, vol. II, pp. 708–19. 

  • From an album presented to Edward VII when Prince of Wales by Mangaldas Nathubhai in Bombay, 1875