University of California Human Creative Skills and Imagination Discussion


5A – In this first section of the course, we have looked at many examples of how images are used to convey authority and fashion public identity. This can be seen in images of gods, religious figures, and earthly individuals. Choose ONE of the portraits below, and analyze what it communicates about its subject and how it asserts its authority. Be specific about what is conveyed and precisely how. (Note: this is NOT a Compare and Contrast – you should only discuss ONE of the works)At least 400 words.Farrukh Husain, Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II Hawking, c. 1590 (Links to an external site.)Abu’l Hasan, Jahangir’s Dream, c. 1618-1622 (Links to an external site.)One of these works is not from your textbook and will require a little additional research to understand the subject matter and historical context. However, the analysis should be your own and based on your own observation of the work provided. In particular, use the discussion of Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaykh to Kings in the Lesson 3 Lecture (attached below), as an example of how to break down work to analyze how it conveys a message. However, there are many more examples of this throughout the lessons so far! Lesson 5 Reflection – Art and Death5B – Most of the objects we looked at in this lesson were found in tombs in China. How do these art objects reveal the dominant beliefs regarding the death in China during this period? Consider how the types of objects found in China from this time compare to objects made in India in the same era and how they reveal differences in attitudes towards death. Lesson 3 LectureIslam and Persian Courtly CultureAs you read in your textbook, Islam arrived and took root on the Indian subcontinent during this period. If you are unfamiliar with the origins and beliefs of Islam, read through this Introduction to Islam (Links to an external site.) from Smart History. The Mughals In your text, you learned about the series of Islamic dynasties that ruled from Delhi known as the Delhi Sultanate, as well as the various kingdoms of the Deccan and the south of India. In this lecture, we will focus on the dynasty that succeeded the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughals. The Mughals came from Central Asia and conquered much of the Indian subcontinent. They proudly traced their lineage back to Genghis Khan and Timur (Tamerlane), and they brought with them a sophisticated Persian courtly culture. The powerful Mughals had an enormous influence on the other kingdoms and princely states of India, but we should not think of influence as going in only one direction – the Mughals absorbed the influence of their subjects and neighbors as well. This willingness to adopt elements of local Indian culture is most apparent in the art created under the Mughal emperor Akbar.Krishna Holds up Mount Govardhan to Shelter the Villagers of Braj, folio from the Harivamsa (“The Legend of Hari [Krishna]”), c. 1590–1595, ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper (113⁄8 × 77⁄8″)The painting shown above depicts Krishna, one of the avatars of Vishnu, holding up a mountain to shelter the people of the village of Braj from the wrath of the storm god, Indra. Here, Krishna acts as the great preserver of life, one of the major roles Vishnu plays within Hindu religion. As a work that was produced in the royal workshop of Akbar, a Muslim ruler, the subject may seem to be an odd choice. However, Akbar was an extremely eclectic patron fascinated by religion, and the paintings produced by his workshop feature Muslim, Hindu, and even Christian subject matter (see image 3-37 on p 75 of your textbook).Aside from its subject matter, the work shown above features many distinctive qualities of Mughal art, and the period of Akbar’s reign in particular. This work fuses local Indian subject matter with Persian stylistic elements. I have included a famous example of Persian painting below so you can get a sense of what features of the Mughal painting above could be considered Persian-influenced. Spend a few moments comparing the two works before continuing to read. Sultan-Muhammad, Court of Gayumars, from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, Tabriz, Iran, c. 1525-1535, ink, watercolour, and gold on paperOne of the most notable and immediately recognizable Persian elements in the Mughal painting is the colorful, lumpy, and dynamic-looking rocks that make up Mount Govardhan. In this case, the twisting and dynamic appearance of the rocks is especially appropriate because it gives the impression that the storm sent by Indra is truly ferocious – so ferocious that even the rocks seem to bend in the wind.However, one of the ways that the Mughal work diverges from the Persian prototype is in the individuality of the figures in the painting. While the Persian work features more stylized and generic looking faces, the Mughal painting’s figures are each distinct, both in body type and facial features. This seems to reflect the broader interest Akbar had in the land and the people he ruled – the people in the painting appear to be based on observations of Akbar’s real subjects, replicating their features, clothing, and mannerisms. This interest in individuality is also apparent in the many rich examples of Mughal portraiture. Mughal PortraitureBichitr, Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaykh to Kings, Mughal dynasty, c. 1615–1618, opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper (height 187⁄8 × 13″)Akbar’s son Jahangir considered himself a much more discerning art patron, and he ended up letting go of many of the painters his father had employed in the imperial workshop. So while fewer works were created in Jahangir’s workshop, they are of an extraordinarily high quality. They also reveal some of the eclecticism we see in the works created under Akbar’s patronage, in particular, a fascination with European stylistic elements. The work shown here, Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaykh to Kings, is a work carefully constructed to communicate a message about Jahangir’s priorities as a ruler. Since this is a work all about Jahangir, let’s look at him first. He is easily identifiable because he draws the most attention. How does he do this? (or rather, how does the artist, Bichitr, draw our attention to Jahangir?) First, while most of the other figures in the painting are lined up along the lower half of the left side of the painting facing right, Jahangir sits above them, largely centered, and is the only major figure facing left. His head is surrounded by a massive halo, and while many of the haloes we’ve seen so far have indicated the divinity of the bearer, this halo does not indicate that Jahangir is a divine being (that would be blasphemous in Islam). Rather, it communicates that he sits in the divine light of God and suggests that his right to rule is divinely ordained (this is important because it makes his authority unquestionable!) Jahangir’s face is shown in perfect profile, a distinguished view for the human face, and one often used in official portraiture (think Roman coins – or our own coins, for that matter!), and his features are specific and recognizable – this is a true portrait, not a generically idealized one. This interest in true portraiture is a distinctive quality of Mughal painting, one that was already present during the reign of Akbar. Now let’s move away from Jahangir himself and look at how the people and objects that surround him and the way they are arranged help to construct Jahangir’s image. The work contains four other major figures (excluding the putti – the winged babies – for the moment), and they do not appear to stand on the same plane. Instead, they seem to be stacked, one atop the other. This is partly for the sake of clarity – it is easier to see them stacked up like this than it would be to see them lined up one behind the other, and this preference for clarity over naturalism is fairly standard in Indian art generally. But it is also intended to convey different levels of importance. The figure at the top is a Sufi Shaykh – a Muslim holy man and mystic – who looks up towards Jahangir and receives a book (probably the book recording Jahangir’s life) from him. Beneath him is an Ottoman sultan, a ruler of another powerful empire, much like Jahangir’s own – the facial features are generic and the figure is probably not meant to represent a specific sultan. Beneath him is a man who may seem familiar to some of you (no, it’s not Shakespeare!) – this is King James I of England. While James never traveled to India, nor did Bichitr, the artist of this work, travel to England, this is a true portrait, one that captures the distinctive qualities of James’ appearance, much like the portrait of Jahangir himself. It seems that Bichitr had access to a printed portrait of James, probably brought by European traders, and he has replicated it precisely in this painting (however, he probably only saw a black and white print and has chosen the colors here himself!). Even the three-quarters view of James’ face reflects contemporary fashions in English portraiture. Finally, beneath James is a figure wearing saffron, indicating that he is a Hindu, who holds a small painting which features a bowing saffron-clad figure, two horses, and an elephant. This final figure is Bichitr himself, and the tiny painting also depicts Bichitr with gifts that have been bestowed upon him by Jahangir! It’s important to note here that the inclusion of the artist’s self portrait would almost certainly not have been his own decision – instead, he has been included here because Jahangir wants him here. So what is communicated by the inclusion of these four figures? First, it shows Jahangir as the greatest king among great kings. The Ottoman sultan in particular represents a truly powerful empire, so the fact that he appears to be paying homage to Jahangir further elevates the Mughal’s status. James is here as a powerful king, but more importantly, his inclusion is probably meant to show how worldly Jahangir is and how far-reaching his influence, because James represents a culture that is so foreign to the Mughals. And Bichitr is included as a sort of ‘king of artists’ – suggesting that he is truly among the greatest artists in existence. But remember, this painting is about Jahangir, not Bichitr, so this is not merely a compliment to a court painter. Instead, the inclusion of Bichitr conveys that Jahangir is cultured, recognizes great art, and as patron, is ultimately responsible for the creation of truly great art. So the greatness of all these figures help to enhance Jahangir’s own greatness, but there is also a statement about Jahangir’s piety and humility here. Though kings stand before him, he ignores them and turns to the religious leader. This conveys his devotion to Islam and his willingness to ignore the trappings of power in favor of religion. Looking beyond the five major figures here, there is still a great deal more which the painting communicates. The most noticeable (and obvious) symbol here is the hourglass on which Jahangir is seated. This conveys the idea that Jahangir is preoccupied with the passage of time and is aware of his own mortality. This suggests that he is considering his own legacy and his eternal fate, and this idea is supported by the fact that he is shown passing the book of his life to the shaykh. Additionally, the painting includes some very distinctly European elements, which are unusual and appear almost jarring in the context. First, there are the putti, a staple of European Renaissance art, and second, the carpet features acanthus leaves and half figures with their arms spread in gestures of worship or celebration, both of which are common motifs in Italian art. Like James I, these features are likely meant to highlight Jahangir’s worldliness. However, despite the many European elements, the treatment of them is still distinctively Indian. This is most clear in the representation of the carpet, which in a European painting would recede into space, meaning that the parts closest to the viewer would appear larger and clearer than those further back. However, this would also serve to distort the patterns on the carpet, sacrificing clarity for naturalism. Thus, Bichitr has represented the carpet in an unnatural way – tilted up and parallel to the picture plane – in order to display the pattern as clearly as possible. This treatment of carpets and patterned surfaces in general is typical in Indian (as well as Persian) painting. Rajput and Pahari PaintingsOutside of the Mughal court and the territories held by the Mughals, many works of art were produced for the rulers and elites of smaller princely states. There is a great deal of stylistic diversity among these works, though many of them reflect clear Mughal influence. Watch the video below to see how miniature painters in both the Mughal courts and the courts of the princely states would have worked. Lady with a Hawk, c. 1750, paint on paperIn contrast to the more direct and clear-cut symbolism of Mughal paintings, many Rajput paintings are more suggestive. They often have poetic or musical associations and convey emotions rather than concrete ideas. While portraits of rulers and illustrations of scenes from the Hindu epics – the Ramayana and the Mahabharata – were common, beautiful women were another common subject. The work shown above is a typical example of this genre. The work is elegantly simplified, and it is composed in a way that enhances its sensuality. The many straight hard lines and sharp angles serve to accentuate all the rounded forms, from the refined curves that make up the hawk to the sensuous curves of the woman’s body. Though at a glance, it may seem to be a work that is merely visually pleasing, the artist has used imagery that gives the work romantic overtones. So let’s try our hand at ‘reading’ this work.The woman is young and beautiful and clearly of high status. This is indicated by the fine gauzy clothing she wears, the gold cushioned bench, and the fact that she sits at leisure in a well-kept outdoor setting smoking a hookah. However, the setting is enclosed by a wall, suggesting that the world she inhabits is small and restricted (as would certainly be the case for a high-born young woman). The wall itself is a shocking, vibrant red and suggests an intensity of emotion, even though the woman’s face remains gently impassive (it would be considered undignified – and ugly – for strong emotions to be shown on her face, so emotions in paintings like this are often conveyed through other means). One of the most noteworthy aspects of this painting is the inclusion of the hawk, which would typically be associated with hunting (you saw Ibrahim Adil Shah II hunting with a hawk on p 60 of your textbook), something that this young woman would not be doing from the comfort of her enclosed garden. The hawk is thus an unusual inclusion and one that takes on greater importance because of its oddness within the context. The suggestion of hunting calls to mind a man – one who is strong and virile and belongs to the world outside of this women’s space. And because the major theme of these paintings of women tends to be romantic love, we are meant to understand that this is exactly what this young woman is thinking about. Her contemplation of the hawk conveys her longing for someone who is absent and who lies outside to boundaries of her limited world. This emotion is enhanced by the vibrant red of the wall and the sharp points of the trees on the left, and the sense of restriction is further emphasized by the bird’s own lack of freedom. This is a creature with the natural ability to fly – to transcend things like walls and borders – yet this one has been tamed, and a string can be seen dangling from its leg. Like the woman, it lacks the freedom of the absent man. Thus this painting, without using any obvious symbols, suggests the quiet longings of the woman depicted. It does not have a straightforward narrative, but it engages the viewer through its subtle and sophisticated manner of conveying emotion. Nainsukh, Raja Balwant Singh Smoking Alone on a Palace Roof in the Rains, 1751, paint on paperAnother work, which is both an example of official portraiture and poetically suggestive painting, is a portrait of the Rajput ruler, Raja Balwant Singh by his favorite artist Nainsukh. Nainsukh painted many unusually intimate portraits of Balwant Singh (one of which you read about in your textbook), and this work is no exception. Here, the ruler is shown standing on the roof of his palace alone smoking a hookah. His face is shown in profile, as was typical and appropriate for portraits of rulers, but unlike a typical ruler portrait, this lacks much of the imagery normally used to assert authority, such as the presence of other people. Instead, the emphasis is on the ruler’s solitude. Though the zoomed out viewpoint allows us to see Balwant Singh’s palace (which does emphasize his wealth), it also makes the ruler appear small and even somewhat vulnerable. The sky appears stormy and threatening, suggesting emotional turmoil, and Balwant Singh’s face is tilted up in the direction of a pair of birds, which appears to suggest loneliness – while the birds are coupled, Balwant Singh is decidedly alone. So what is the point of this painting? What exactly is this work intended to convey and who is the audience? Honestly, it’s hard to say. Raja Balwant Singh was not a powerful ruler, and not a lot is known about him. What does seem clear is that these unusual works are meant to communicate that he was a sophisticated and contemplative man, one who was introspective and appreciative of the art

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