Indian deities and rulers, their avatars, consorts, martial exploits and love interests are depicted in this exhibition of miniature paintings and sculptures from the 15th to the 20th centuries, on view at Baruch College’s Mishkin Gallery, November 15 to December 14, 2007. Opening reception Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007, 6 to 8 pm.
Using brilliant colors, virtuoso brush strokes, and their fingers, Indian artists illustrated narratives from their great epic poems, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, celebrating the feats of the gods Shiva and Vishnu as well as their human incarnations. With the coming of the Moghul dynasty in 1526, historical depictions of great rulers and heroic battles were added to traditional religious themes, while allegorical paintings of love and longing never lost their appeal.
Radically different in technique and style from Western art, these miniatures depicted a cosmos where Hindu deities include the elephant-headed Ganesha and Hanuman, leader of a monkey army. Krishna, a favorite subject of Indian painters, is conventionally blue-skinned, while Narasimha, another of Vishnu’s nine incarnations, is half man and half lion. In Indian painting and sculpture the phantasmagorical appears alongside naturalistic portraiture and battle scenes. Later in the19th century, even Englishmen in Western dress begin to appear as subject matter.
Miniature Worlds: Art from India from the 15th to the 20th Century comprises 43 paintings and 22 sculptures from the Leland C. and Paula Wyman collection purchased for The Art Complex Museum in Duxbury, Massachusetts. It is curated by Alice R. M. Hyland and presented at the Mishkin Gallery by ExhibitsUSA, a national division of Mid-America Arts Alliance and The National Endowment for the Arts.
Most of the paintings in this exhibition were originally illustrations from a book, hence their small size and rich palette of gold, crimson, purple and ultramarine. However, imperial portraits from India were also resplendent with dazzling color for another reason – they were meant to proclaim the opulence of rulers such as the 18th century Sultan of Mysore or the Khalil Allah Khan Bahadur, the governor of Delhi.
Romantic love, another core theme of Indian art, appears in many paintings, in particular in Ragamala images which are linked to specific melodies through iconography and text. Ragini are their female counterparts, and often depict a woman waiting or longing for her lover.
Because Hindu and Jain deities are shown here in illustrated manuscripts created for albums and stored in libraries, their condition is generally pristine. In contrast, the small sculptures were generally household shrines, used in daily worship and consequently appear to be in worn condition.
The Mishkin Gallery is located at 135 E. 22nd Street. Gallery hours are Monday – Friday, Noon to 5 pm; Thursday, Noon to 7 pm. All exhibitions are free and open to the public.