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Primary Colors: Paintings from 17th-Century Central India and 18th-Century Nepal

May 13–October 11, 2004

The interplay between indigenous Indian painting traditions and imported Persianate influences invigorated painting on the Indian subcontinent for over three hundred years. Primary Colors, featuring some thirty works from the museum’s collection, juxtaposes two intriguingly similar groups of paintings, one from seventeenth-century Central India and another from eighteenth-century Nepal. These works reflect indigenous painting traditions, characterized by expanses of intense red, blue, and yellow as well as figures seen in sharp profile, but they also include imagery of costume and architecture drawn from Islamic prototypes.

Dynamic painting traditions flourished in Central India under Hindu, Jain, and Muslim patronage even before Mughal rulers imported Persian painters in the early sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century, the Hindu rulers of Malwa (an area of Central India) developed active workshops that re-emphasized pre-Mughal forms. In the eighteenth century, Nepalese painting took a surprising turn, leading to forms closely related to those produced in seventeenth-century Malwa. The installation explores why patrons and painters, separated by distance and time, chose a closely related aesthetic.

Among the highlights of the installation are two recently acquired Nepalese paintings that will be seen in Philadelphia for the first time. The Celestial Abode of Shiva and Devi is a great sunburst-like representation of a divine palace surrounded by courtly and ascetic devotees, while Pilgrimage to Gosainkund—a fourteen-foot-long scroll—illuminates a meandering path through cities and towns, peppered by pilgrims and animals, ultimately leading to a sacred lake in the high Himalayas.

Main Building


Darielle Mason, Stella Kramrisch Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art; Katherine Anne Paul, Assistant Curator, Indian and Himalayan Art

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