Garden & Cosmos

SAAM’s visiting show Garden & Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur visually chronicles about 300 years’ worth of history, when Hindu dynasties ruled Rajasthan before the creation of modern India. In 50-plus watercolors from the 17th to 19th centuries (augmented by recent photographs), we see the final opulent flowering of the Raj. In color-coded galleries corresponding to different epochs, princes and kings cavort with courtesans, hunt in their private game preserves, race elephants, watch peacocks, luxuriate in their palaces, and occasionally pray to their deities. Actual gold is employed as a pigment on some paintings, where the figures’ jewelry is often beaded onto the paper’s surface. If there are 100 woman in a frame, each beauty may wear a different sari pattern. The paintings are marvelously ornate and detailed (you almost need a magnifying glass), and generally narrative. They’re both exquisite and self-aggrandizing, literal stories of wealth and privilege about to vaporize with the 20th century. (In some frames, soldiers brandish rifles—new instruments of technological change.) Painted without perspective, these are flat documents by court artists that betray their rulers’ supreme lack of self-awareness—like Louis XVI tending the gardens of Versailles before the French revolution. The photos, by Neil Greentree, might inspire you to visit Jodhpur, where today a very different social order prevails. (Through April 26, closed Mon. and Tues.) BRIAN MILLER

Feb. 5-April 26, 10 a.m., 2009

 
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