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October 2018

No. 1387 – Vol 160

A Mystical Realm of Love: Pahari Paintings from the Eva and Konrad Seitz Collection. By J.P. Losty.

Book Review

A Mystical Realm of Love: Pahari Paintings from the Eva and Konrad Seitz Collection. By J.P. Losty.

By J.P. Losty. 400 pp. incl. 300 col. ills. (Francesca Galloway, London, 2017), £90. ISBN 978–1–912168–05–7.

This magesterial catalogue of the Eva and Konrad Seitz Collection of Pahari miniature paintings provides more than the standard descriptive analysis that is usually presented in such books, and serves as an important addition to the scholarship of classical Indian painting. Eva and Konrad Seitz began collecting Pahari miniature paintings in the late 1960s, recognising the significance of Rajput paintings that originated from the Hindu schools of northern India and Rajasthan between the seventeenth century and the nineteenth over the more popular naturalistic Mughal paintings. The collection comprises important eighteenth-century Pahari paintings from the court of Guler.  Commissioned by the Rajput rulers of the Punjab Hill states, these miniatures are notable for their delicate rendering, lyrical, flowing lines, elegant figures and the soft palette of blue and green hues employed in the landscapes.

In his introduction Losty presents a revised approach to the study of Pahari miniature paintings in terms of dating and provenance. He considers the paintings within the format of religious and poetic illustrated manuscripts, including the Bhagavata Purana Ramayana, Gita Govinda and Ragamalas, supporting his arguments with historical research and visual analysis. Losty examines the ‘fraternal crossinfluencing’ (p.23) between two eighteenthcentury Guler Pahari master painters, Nainsukh and his brother Manuka, and their stylistic legacy, which was influenced by their father, Pandit Seu, and has come to be known as ‘The First Generation after Nainsukh’. It is illustrated, for example, in the Seitz Ashtanayika series (p.262–65) by the manner of depicting the form of the nayika or heroine. A particularly fine example is the Abhisarika nayika (cat. no.73; Fig.3), the lady who goes out alone to meet her lover. On the basis of a detailed examination of the modelling of the heroine’s face, Losty attributes the painting to Manaku and dates it to c.1750. In reconsidering the development of Pahari painting, Losty advances new arguments and, in particular, clarifies aspects of Nainsukh’s later career.

Every catalogue entry is accompanied by a detailed discussion of the work’s iconography and compositional structures as well as the stylistic developments in the Pahari painting tradition. These in-depth descriptions support Losty’s revaluation of existing scholarship. Many of the paintings are reproduced full-scale. Double-page spreads often include details that help the reader follow the close analysis. It is refreshing to be presented with a catalogue of high-quality paintings from a particular genre of Indian art history, which includes not only a detailed descriptive analysis for each painting, as is to be expected from such a publication, but also a reevaluation and revision of theory. In the twenty-first century this is the way forward for the subject.

Jasleen Kandhari