Sunday, October 9, 2011

miniatures and alternating perspectives

At the Met Museum's exhibition of Indian painting, Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India, 1100-1900, 
the miniatures (you are given a magnifying glass) get larger and larger until, at the end, the works are LARGE enough to go into European niches and be differently displayed. What an exhibition! right away I loved the Chameleon of Mansur, 1595-60, and his Great Hornbill, 1615, and they reminded me of Simon Bussy's animal paintings (the French painter married to Dorothy Bussy, translator of Gide and also fervent adorer of Gide), and marveled at a Hindu painter during Mughal time, part of Akbar's atelier, who painted in the "European mode." Indeed, and you see St. Jerome in exactly the posture we are used to seeing him in, and then a self-portrait with birds above in spatial depth we weren't expecting. Lots of marveling.

What I love seeing most, these days, is the odd detail: one slipper cast aside, in a Woman Worshipping the Sun... or, in another, one hand just slipping over a doorframe holding something or other. It bothers me not in the least not to know, NOT TO KNOW, what she is holding, nor do I need to know, in a 1640 work, why the dejected Gopis are begging Krishna to restore their clothes? there they are, all wretched and shivering or trembling or something, coming out of the water... And all the small beasts under water, as in those magnificent medieval maps, and a few figures around 1780 looking out at you from the bottom of the painting, it seems to me, for the first time. I loved the smiling elephant with an eyebrow raised, and the great white sweep of the South Wind in the Himalayas, and the Pahari painters. Who would not choose, when confronted by a demon of any sort, to see how to deal with a Snake Demon?  Krishna undoes him on one side, standing in his mouth, even as that demon eye is staring at us, and then, lo and behold, on the other side, the figures he or it has swallowed arise from his head where his eye is now sleeping, as he is perishing....

In Nainsukh's Troupe of Trumpeters, with all the trumpets raised in a powerful composition, it feels like the great Paolo Uccello's Battle of San Romano with all the spears sticking out.When , in the 19th century, the painting accommodated to European tastes, and was collected by the Scots William and James Fraser, the change is startling, toward "Company Painting", and painting techniques merge with photographic techniques. The exhibition ends with the painter Tara (1836-70), with a large Festival of Hilo demonstrating alternating perspectives,  and with a display of Indian painting materials, including a very lovely yellow magnesium euxanthate, used in the 15th to the 19th centuries, made from the urine of cows fed on mango leaves. Not a lot of exhibitions end like that.  

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