Like the late nineteenth and early twentieth century portraits of the master portraitists like Raja Ravi Varma this portrait too records the transition from the earlier medieval miniatures to the canvas paintings of the modern days which sharing European techniques, mediums and vision presented an altogether different synthesis of Indian theme, whether the perception of feminine beauty, the concept of her grace, or a legend though discovering it essentially in broad portrayed figures, male or female, for this art sought its theme in individuals, not the individuals in a legend or theme. The portrayed damsel carries an apple or holds her sari but none of her gestures constitutes a theme; they only add some stylisation to her form, beauty and grace.
The transition from the earlier perception of a theme, an individual or an act, characteristic to this art-phase, powerfully reflects in this painting. Whichever the body-colours in early miniatures, the portrayed figures are usually flat-skinned; as against them this portrait, like those of Raja Ravi Varma, conceives the damsel with a transparent skin, lustrous and brimming with life. Similarly, instead of the feeble-looking slenderer figures of earlier miniatures this portrait perceives her with a perfectly balanced anatomy : a taller figure, healthy body-build, glowing face and long fingers but perfectly shaped.
Though eye-brows are trimmed, the eyes brim with life and vigour and are realistic. Her bell-shaped ear-ornaments – karnaphools, and the ‘jhumara’ – pendant with tiny hangings worn to adorn hair, and the nose-ring, embedded with precious gems, have reflection of Mughal culture prevailing till quite late in the life of nobility and elite; in her costume, particularly in her sari, revives India’s ages’ old form of costuming. The blouse that she is wearing is a blend of European breast-wear and India’s costume for breast varying from a breast-band to a short coat as a number of female figures are seen wearing in Ajanta murals.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.