From a ragamala-series Mughal, Delhi, ca. 1790–1800 Pigments on paper Size of painting 28.5 x 20 cm Collection Eva and Konrad Seitz Photo: Rainer Wolfsberger © Museum Rietberg

30 November 2010 until 10 April 2011 – Museum Rietberg Zürich

The collection of Eva and Konrad Seitz is one of the most important private collections of Indian painting in Europe. Museum Rietberg is proud to be able to present part of this private collection to the public for the first time, in an exhibition which will provide a unique insight into the tradition of Indian painting at Mughal courts in northern India and in the southern Deccan region. The paintings selected reveal the remarkably rich diversity of these paintings in the period between 1575 and 1820.

The Mughals had a profound influence on the politics and culture of northern India for some 300 years, and this only ended in 1858 when the last Mughal emperor was sent into exile by the British colonial government. During this period the country was politically reunited for the first time since the early Indian kingdoms. When the Mughals first came to power in northern India, they brought with them a rich artistic tradition from their Persian roots. Emperor Akbar (r.1556–1605) established painting workshops at his court for which he recruited not only artists who were of Persian origin or Muslims but also Indian painters with their own traditions. Although the workshops were scaled down under Akbar’s successors Jahangir (r. 1605–1627) and Shah Jahan (r. 1628–1658), the artistic skills of the painters and the Mughal style continued to develop and reached a point of exquisite perfection. The naturalistic style of the painting and the impressive portraits of nobles and rulers reflect not only the artists’ mastery of detailed observation but also their endeavour to create historical records for posterity. Apart from these secular, courtly themes, mythological and European motifs testify to the imperial splendour of the Mughal period and the artistic openness of the painters. The composition of the collection vividly illustrates the thematic diversity of Mughal painting from its beginnings to the end of this period.
The exhibition also shows how painting flourished at the same time in the Deccan region further south, a subject to which little attention has been devoted until now. The principalities which emerged from the Delhi sultanate remained independent for a long time. In their own workshops, a very distinct style emerged which initially was very different from that of Mughal courts but later also integrated elements from Mughal painting. The paintings are characterised especially by their vivid colour palette and idealised representations. A fascinating lyrical evocation of atmosphere and emotion can be found in portraits of rulers and scenes from everyday life at court, and especially in the ragamalas, paintings that relate to Indian musical forms.

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