LONDON.- Dulwich Picture Gallery
presents Ragamala Paintings from India: Poetry, Passion, Song. This exhibition will be one of the first to be dedicated solely to the ragamala theme, displaying a rare grouping of 24 objects from the Claudio Moscatelli Collection. The varied literary, social and poetic influences of ragamala painting will be explored and it will be the first opportunity to see Indian painting alongside the extensive European Old Master collection at Dulwich Picture Gallery.
Great variety can be seen in the Claudio Moscatelli Collection of loose folios from multiple ragamala albums. The collection covers the whole of the Indian subcontinent: from the plains of Rajasthan, to the Pahari region in the foothills of the Himalayas, down to the Deccan and up to the mountains of Nepal.
For 500 years it was one of the most prolific genres of Indian miniature painting, yet the term ragamala remains elusive, frequently mistaken for the name of an artist or school of painting. Italian-born Claudio Moscatelli discovered Indian miniature painting at the Victoria and Albert Museum shortly after relocating to this country. Thinking back to this first encounter, he says: I was finding my Italian roots again in a certain similarity between Sienese primitive painting and some Indian miniatures the strange perspectives, the colourful buildings, the use of figures to tell different stories and the two dimensional modelling. Shortly after, Claudio travelled to India and his attention was quickly drawn to ragamala painting. What fascinated him most was its core theme: the relationship between the lover and beloved, a metaphor between human and Divine.
A ragamala or garland of ragas is a set of miniature paintings depicting various musical modes, ragas, of Indian music. Each painting is accompanied by a brief caption or poem that describes the mood of the raga, most frequently love in its various aspects and devotion. Thus, ragamala painting became known as a genre combining painting, poetry and music. The paintings most frequently depict romantic or devotional situations in a refined courtly setting, although combat, hunting, formal receptions and sport scenes also appear in ragamala iconography.
Surviving examples of this varied genre suggest that ragamala painting flourished in the late fifteenth century and dwindled in the nineteenth century, when aristocratic patronage was no longer available. The first known document of ragamala painting dated c.1475 from Western India, depicted ragas as deities. By the middle of the sixteenth century, ragas, mirroring the changing characteristics of Hindu worship, intersperse images of deities and human beings within narrative scenes. The landscape and architectural surroundings, barely hinted at in early ragamalas, now play an important symbolic role in defining the space in which the action takes place.
Ragamalas were not made to hang on a wall; they are tactile objects for private consumption. Each set of thirty or forty loose pages were sometimes bound or left as a set and stored on a shelf. At special events they would have been passed round fellow connoisseurs after shared food and music. Luckily the gentle life of a ragamala has allowed their exquisite colouring to be preserved. The natural pigments, made from minerals, insects and flowers, still appear to glow
The exhibition is curated by Lizzie Watson, Exhibitions Officer at Dulwich Picture Gallery, with the assistance of Catherine Glynn, independent curator in the field of Indian art; Anna L. Dallapiccola, Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh; and Robert Skelton, former Keeper of the Indian Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum.