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Social Art at its Best

Shivaji K. Panikkar

By Som Prakash Verma
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 185, Rs. 2250.00


Reading through the title and contents of the book, the scope of this recent publication on painting during the Mughal rule in the Indian subcontinent, covering a span of over 200 years indeed sounds quite sweeping. Aimed at more than a general introductory readership, this reference book gives focus to the shifting modes of the patrons’ taste and the artists’ struggle to cope with the situation. From this concern, the author has thematized eight topics serially as the chapter headings: the atelier, narrative art, portraiture, painting on natural history, margin-painting, ascriptions, identical versions and modern attributions, and the impact of renaissance art. The book has an introduction and an exhaustive bibliography, illustrations and glossary. Each of the above themes is descriptively analysed in the chapters while quoting extensively from the contemporary literary sources, substantiating the arguments. Describing the formal aspects of works of art as its central focus, and largely following the chronological method, the text is interspersed also with brief and relevant conceptualizations.   In the introductory chapter after providing the context of development of painting in the Mughal court within the Indian tradition, the author further discusses the general aspects of painting under Akbar and the other Mughal rulers who followed him. Within the concern of writing about art during the early to the closing periods of the Mughal era, one may not fail to see that the general considerations are over-determined by certain readily available established opinions on the subject, rather than an attempt to consider any fresh enquiry or search employing any different frameworks. However, perhaps this may be the first book to thematize the painting during the Mughal rulers on the lines suggested by the chapter titles and on the lines largely determined by the canons and conventions court art itself throws open.   The author in the introduction historically locates Mughal painting from the premise of the sources it draws from, its composite formal makeup and its contribution to other later schools of Indian art. Pointing out the complexity and limitations of studying Mughal art, from the point of view of explaining the interaction of patronage and imperial institutions the author phases out its development within the framework of shifting patronage and differing imperial interests. One of the focus of the book is on the artists’ experiences (the title itself makes this clear) within the context of anonymity of pre-modern Indian artists; the book goes on to ...

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