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This new art perception completely revolutionized the iconographic vision of Indian art, designated as ‘modern’, with the result that even a cobbler in rags revealed on the artist’s canvas a gentleman’s dignity and a prince’s grace. Raja Ravi Varma and artists influenced by his perception conceived their new men and women with a different sense of dignity irrespective of their social status or economic condition. In the entire body of portraits, portrait-based compositions, and even mythological figures, that the brush of Raja Ravi Varma or other artists in his line created there revealed uniformly this unique characteristic and it largely defined this new art. This art, realistic as it was, strove to discover ‘likeness’, not an individual’s identity, and thus, it portrayed more often his class. This portrait of the lady, though a contemporary work, is a great masterpiece in this line of the late nineteenth century art idiom. More than an individual, she has been portrayed as the icon of a class.
This new art did not diffuse its figures, the painting’s focal point and primary concern, into background details except what defined an aspect of the personality of the portrayed figure or broke the monotony of the blank canvas-space. Different from the landscape of a miniature painting having everything in it from a char-bagh garden in the foreground to a distant shrine, or hill, on the far-end, this new art usually preferred a monochromic backdrop with a subdued form, or without any, not distracting the viewing eye from the main theme. This perception of the late nineteenth century art in regard to the kind of background is the perception of this contemporary painting too. It portrays its figure against a similar dark deep background : a wall painted in slightly varying tones of dark maroon with no forms defining it except a flower pot motif, a panel of ceramic tiles having vine designing patterns and two courses of floral creepers, all rendered in folk style and subdued colour-tones.
The young damsel, possessed of great beauty and gold-like lustre, has been portrayed as seated on a double cushion with a stool-like height made of bright dark green silk adorned with pure gold butis. Natural as is her seating posture, her figure reveals great ease and composure. One with a round face, large arched eyes, sharp features, broad forehead and well defined neck, the young damsel has been drawn with a tall slender figure possessed of unique grace and figural beauty. Her heavy gold jewellery studded with precious rubies and her expensive ensemble are denotative of her high status, perhaps one from a royal family or other class of the society’s upper strata. Her gold-like glistening palms and feet painted in scarlet dye reveal great aesthetic beauty.
She is wearing on her lower half a sari-like designed lehenga made of the textile woven with a mix of silk and gold thread. Besides the entire field embellished with gold-flower motifs it has heavy gold borders, a broader one on the bottom, and a less broad, on the upper side. The blouse that she is wearing is also made of the same textile. It has heavy gold borders on sleeve-ends, neck and bottom. An ‘odhani’ – her most artistically worn upper wear, is another beautiful component of her ensemble. Made of the textile woven of gold-thread mixed with silk, dyed in emerald green, the odhani has been woven with pure gold borders, and the field, embellished with knot-motifs. She has on her person a few selective ornaments revealing great taste and elegance. All ornaments, a long chain with bead-design on her breasts, necklace, ear-ornaments, pendant on the forehead, bangles, feet-ornaments, rings, all are made of gold. Ruby seems to be her chosen stone and it is with rubies that her ornaments are studded.
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.