Adrian Hamilton: This grandeur at the British Museum dazzles me

Share
Related Topics

The best news from the art world at the moment is that the British Museum is extending its exhibition of Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur until 11 October. It may be only for the museum's convenience (the next exhibition on the Nigerian Kingdom of Ife is not due until next March), but prolonging the Indian display, which gained far too little attention when it was first opened, gives a welcome chance for those who have not seen this show to see it for themselves, and for those who have seen it to take another look.

Coming hard on the heels of the Kuniyoshi exhibition at the Royal Academy, the BM's display of Rajasthani works is one of those shows that explode all your expectations of what the art is about. In Kuniyoshi's case, the shattered assumption was that Japanese woodblocks were all about line and stillness, concentrating either on the pose of the courtesan or the actor, or depicting the landscape caught in a moment. Instead, here was a violence and brashness that made crystal-clear why so many Japanese comic-strip creators regard this 19th-century artist as the father of Manga.

The Indian exhibition is bold in a quite different way. The colours are certainly striking, as you would expect from Rajasthan, with its reds, yellows and oranges. But it's also the composition of these works that dazzles. It was not that the Indian painters didn't understand perspective. Renaissance prints arrived early and India's artists copied them. But then they simply went back to their own way of two dimensions, using space, verticals and great sweeps of crowded vegetation, people and animals to create energy and rhythm to their pictures.

The Rathore Rajputs, who'd grown powerful by backing the Mughals, carved out a sizeable kingdom around Jodhpur. By the 18th century, they were wealthy enough to attract the best artists and develop a distinct style. What's striking about their patronage is not just the scale of the watercolours – most the size of an oil painting for display to groups rather than the delectation of individuals like the Moghul miniatures – but that the royal direction of art changed its form so much.

At the beginning, with Bakhat Singh (1725-1751), it's all about the ennoblement of the ruler, as he is presented (larger than anyone else) cavorting with his courtesans in pillared halls and rose-strewn pools, the colour of costume bright against the white of carefully calculated space and the lush greens of the trees around. As Bakhat Singh was succeeded by more religious rulers, the art changes from the presentation of man to the presentation of the gods under Vijai Singh (1752-93) with a stunning series of visions of godly paradise, the greens more verdant, the landscapes more majestic, the figures more energetic; until finally, in a truly devastating set of representations of the act of creation itself commissioned by the ascetic Man Singh (1803-43), who patronised an ascetic yoga sect, the surfaces are covered with great blocks of silver and gold and a few all-powerful gods sit serene in space as void is made into the ocean and life begins. To picture substance being made out of nothingness is an almost impossible feat, but Jodhpur's artist came as close as damn it to doing it.

The fine art of a brute

If you are going to Austria this Autumn or Vienna for the New Year Ball, you could do worse than hasten to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which will be showing an exhibition of the panoplies of power of Charles the Bold of Burgundy (1433-77), below, from 14 September to 11 January. It's already been in Bern and Bruges and great fun it was. Charles ("le Téméraire" as the French called him) was a brute of a man who took the patchwork inheritance of the Burgundian dukes and tried, by force of mercenary arms and sheer display of wealth and power, to make it the rival of neighbouring France and the Hapsburg Empire. He infuriated his allies, tormented his enemies and ruined his chances of a marriage alliance with the Hapsburgs by turning up for a meeting with Frederick III in apparel and splendour far greater than his host.

But what I love about Charles the Bold's story is that he came a cropper fighting none of his more formidable neighbours but the Confederation of Swiss Cantons, whom he'd never taken seriously. They seized his baggage train with all the fine arms, rich tapestries, devotional items and jewellery that accompanied him on his campaigns. The cantons squabbled mightily over the spoil and flooded the market with his jewels. But most of the rest were kept in Bern. It's the first time they've been out of the country, and they shouldn't be missed.

Do the Proms really have to keep up this remorseless celebration of centenaries? This year we have Purcell, Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn as well as (eccentrically) the centenary of Stravinsky's partnership with the Diaghilev Ballet. Mendelssohn I understand. He remains greatly underappreciated here, despite his great anglophilia. The Proms can, and has, given a nudge back to the fore. But Handel, Purcell and Stravinsky? They can manage quite well enough for themselves without a push.

Next year stands to be even worse with the anniversaries of the births of Pergolesi, Schumann, Mahler, Hugo Wolf and Thomas Arne (he of "Rule, Britannia!" fame) all coming up. Are the Proms going to do all of them? If not, which will be favoured? Pergolesi (born 1710) I can see making up a concert or two. He didn't only write "Stabat Mater", sublime though that is. Arne (also 1710) could do with a bit of a fillip. He's English, and wrote some fine keyboard music and songs as well as a series of operas. The BBC might also add late-night choral nods to Ockeghem (born 1410). But can't we limit it to that? Otherwise we'll never hear anything else.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
With an eye for strategy: Stephen Fry’s General Melchett and Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder  

What Cameron really needs is to turn this into a khaki election

Matthew Norman
An Italian policeman stands guard as migrants eat while waiting at the port of Lampedusa to board a ferry bound for Porto Empedocle in Sicily. Authorities on the Italian island of Lampedusa struggled to cope with a huge influx of newly-arrived migrants as aid organisations warned the Libya crisis means thousands more could be on their way  

Migrant boat disaster: EU must commit funds to stop many more dying

Alistair Dawber
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own