08 March 2014
Distinctive leg-of-mutton legs and fine jewels: a new display of Indian paintings in the Treasures of the British Library
Regular visitors to the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library, may have encountered our recent display of Natural History drawings from India next to the entrance to the Magna Carta. From 8 March 2014, a new display of Indian paintings from the Visual Arts collection will be on view.
The British Library’s collection of Indian paintings date mainly from the 16 -19th centuries. The works include portraits and paintings from provinces such as Lucknow, Hyderabad, Murshidabad, the Deccan, Central India, Rajasthan, the Punjab Hills and Plains. The core collection was formed by Richard Johnson, who was in the service of the East India Company from 1770-90. Johnson’s collection was later acquired by the East India Company for its Library in 1807 and afterwards incorporated into the British Library.
In this period Mughal emperors, kings of Rajasthan and even British officers were great patrons of art, establishing workshops and commissioning countless paintings. Popular topics for artists included lavish depictions of court life, portraiture and visualisations of romantic poetry. As works of art on paper, these illustrations were intended to be viewed by the patron alone or shared with a privileged audience. Rather than being displayed on walls, the works were either bound in a muraqqa (album) or stacked as sets of folios so that the viewer had every opportunity to marvel at the intricate details.
Highlights include one of our most recent acquisitions, a portrait of Rao Arjun Singh worshipping Sri Brijnathji in a rose garden, as well as a selection of Indian paintings that have been added to the collection in the last few decades. To understand the reference to the distinctive leg-of-mutton legs, you may need to get up close to our new display of paintings!
The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library hosts a permanent free display of the library's greatest treasures. It is usually open 7 days a week.
Additional material held in the Visual Arts department at the British Library can be viewed by appointment in the Print Room (Asian & African Studies Reading Room). Please email [email protected] for an appointment. The Print Room is generally open Monday-Friday, from 2-5pm.
Malini Roy, Visual Arts Curator
Material held in the Visual Arts department at the British Library can be viewed by appointment in the Print Room. Please email [email protected] for an appointment.