Ladies on a Terrace
Court women were a favorite subject in Indian painting, although few images of upper-class women are actual portrait likenesses. The zenana (women's area of the palace) was the stuff of fantasy for the male artists and patrons of painting: those not privileged to enter the zenana speculated about the delights to be found inside, while the husbands—who were frequently away on military campaigns—waxed nostalgic about the happy hours they had spent there. Images of the zenana usually show the denizens whiling away their time in graceful languor, awaiting their husband's return. In this image, the entertainments overlook a Middle Eastern-style garden split into four quadrants by a fountain and water channels.
Opaque watercolor on paper
Sheet: 13 3/4 x 10 1/4 in. (34.9 x 26 cm)
Image: 8 3/16 x 6 7/16 in. (20.8 x 16.4 cm) (show scale)
Obtained by exchange with Nasli M. Heeramaneck
A bejeweled Hindu lady and three of her attendants are portrayed on a terrace before a formal garden. At the left of center the lady sits cross-legged on a white carpet with a pillow on her lap. Clad in a gold hat, gold flowered pajama and strings of pearls and jewels, and the ubiquitous red caste-mark on her forehead, she leans against two more pillows and holds a glass wine cup out to her attendant. At the right the attendant offers a gold wine cup to the lady with her right hand while holding a wine bottle in her left hand. At the lower right a female musician plays a stringed instrument, and at the left an attendant waves a peacock-feather fly whisk. The ornate floral arabesque on the balustrade echoes that found in the red, orange, blue and white carpet on which the women sit and stand. The garden consists of rhomboid flower beds intersected by paths and watercourses with an octagonal pool and fountain in the center. Cypresses, flowering trees and leafy deciduous trees alternate along the horizon. At the upper left a tank and a building are visible.
Although single-figure and ragamala paintings of women are found in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mughal painting, the depiction of two or more ladies on a terrace did not become popular until the eighteenth century. Because aristocratic wives were confined to the harem, their portraits are necessarily idealized. Apparently, the depiction of the calm and timeless lives of women in the Mughal court appealed to some artists of this period more than the chronicling of an empire where rigid convention had displaced the vigorous feats and aesthetic excellence of the previous century.
This item is not on view
Mughal Style. Ladies on a Terrace, ca. 1700-1710. Opaque watercolor on paper, Sheet: 13 3/4 x 10 1/4 in. (34.9 x 26 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Obtained by exchange with Nasli M. Heeramaneck, 36.231 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 36.231_IMLS_PS3.jpg)
overall, 36.231_IMLS_PS3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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