The artist has captured this medieval idiom with great specificity discovering the fine distinction between a prince and a crown prince by resorting to the late nineteenth century idiom of modern art, and by pursuing some models of princely portraits of the period, more particularly a few by the legendary painter of those days, Raja Ravi Varma, who not only led the art of the post-miniature era to unprecedented heights and founded a new school of Indian art but being himself from a royal family well acquainted with courtly lifestyle and some of the royal personages of his time also rendered many royal portraits – kings, queens, princes, and princesses, both, his contemporary as those of the preceding periods, even legendary like Damayanti – an album of princely life in India, with a real picture of regalia, surroundings and courtly culture.
Unlike the portrait-cult in miniature painting, particularly the Mughal portraits, that strove to reproduce with minute details courtly splendour on par with a portrayed figure, Raja Ravi Varma and other painters of his time, deviating from the miniature line, strove to reproduce their figures, a king or a commoner, inside-out revealing their essential personality, particularly the portrayed figure’s intrinsic being and sometimes his class-identity, focusing little or rather negligibly, on his surroundings except an aspect of it having some reflection on his total being. This portrait of the young prince, pursuing Raja Ravi Varma’s line, has been drawn against a broad patterned background consisting of a massive red tapestry draping the back-wall, and a little of wall devoid of light, creating a magic of contrasts, red on one side, and dark, on the other. A half column on his left carries on its top a European style marble statue of a female, and on the right, a clock made of gold placed on a projection of the wall : both, an art-piece and a rich time denoting machine, the Renaissance components of new elite identity.
As if aware of his status and the responsibilities attached to it, the prince is in a thoughtful mood. The gesture of his hands, both of which lay suspended, one on the chair’s handle, and other, on the sword, suggests that activity has been temporarily shifted from the body to mind and now mind alone is in action. In his eyes swims a deep thought, perhaps deeper to his age. Besides his crown, his figure has been represented as putting on necklaces, ear-ornaments, rings and a gold waistband, all beautifully designed with gold and precious stones – rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds, pearls etc. Unique in lustre, he is wearing a green silk coat brocaded all over with gold flowers and borders on sleeve-ends and lower part. The red pajama is alike lustrous but not brocaded. Instead of Indian style ‘jutis’ – half shoes, that princes are seen wearing in medieval miniatures, the prince in the painting is wearing the European style shoes.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.