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Domains of Wonder: Selected Masterworks of Indian Painting

December 2006
Domains of Wonder: Selected Masterworks of Indian Painting

A True Epicurean Delight for Art Lovers

"God, love, death and dessert are the menu in 'Domains of Wonder'. . . a meal of avid moods and intense sensations. With the first bite your palate is soothed; with the next you break a sweat; by the end you float on a sugar high," wrote The New York Times, and Atlanta art lovers will soon be in store for this sumptuous feast.

The Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University will host a nationally touring exhibition featuring 126 paintings from India drawn from one of the largest and most important collections of South Asian painting outside of the country. Titled Domains of Wonder: Selected Masterworks of Indian Painting, the exhibition opens at the Carlos on December 16, 2006 and will remain on view through March 11, 2007. Organized by the San Diego Museum of Art, Domains of Wonder is the first exhibition to fully survey the richness and depth of this remarkable collection by presenting paintings and manuscripts ranging in date from the 14th through late 19th century, conveying the beliefs and values of the diverse regions of India.

According to Bonnie Speed, Director of the Michael C. Carlos Museum, "It is an honor for the Carlos Museum to present this extraordinary exhibition of Indian miniature paintings. Culled from one of the finest collections of Indian painting in the US, Domains of Wonder will provide exciting opportunities for the study of art, religion, and culture. Indeed, this exhibition will delight all audiences with fascinating imagery painted with saturated, jewel-like colors."

Indian artists have spoken of art in gustatory terms for centuries, through an aesthetics based on the concept of "rasa," meaning the emotional taste or savor — sad, erotic, surly — evoked by art. If you are evolved enough to discern its presence and qualities, you are called a rasika, a connoisseur, an aesthetic gourmet. And this exhibition could make instant epicures of us all.

The "Domains of Wonder" explores how vibrant religious and cultural contexts informed the rich history of painting in India. From fourteenth-century paintings of Jain saints and religious manuscripts from Gujarat to vivid paintings from Rajasthan and the Punjab hills that relate stories of Hindu gods and court ceremonies of local rulers, the exhibit is a breathtaking visual survey. It places the artworks within traditional Indian systems of aesthetics, where viewing a painting inspires awe and wonder.

"Domains of Wonder" provides a chronological and geographical overview of Indian court painting, while focusing on the intense visual delight and intimate texture of the works themselves.

The exhibition is divided into the following eight sections:

I. Terse Assertions: Jaina, Sultanate, and other works, 14th to 18th century.


II. Rooted in the Earth: Works derived mostly from pre-Mughal sources, 16th to 18th century.


III. Devotion, Passion, and Heroism: Paintings from Rajasthani courts, 16th to 19th century. (These are paintings from the numerous Rajput courts that controlled regions of Rajasthan under the Mughal emperor. They reflect each court's incorporation of Mughal styles to greater or lesser extents as they were applied to predominantly Hindu subject matter)


IV. Engaging with the Visible World: Mughal paintings, 16th to mid-18th century. (This most celebrated form of Indian painting was a product of Indian painters who were trained by Persian artists under the close direction of imperial patronage)


V. Sultans and Mystics: Works from the Deccan, 17th to late-18th century. (The mystical Sufi branch of Islam, prominent in the region, lends the defining dreamlike character to these works)


VI. Clarity of Vision: Paintings from Pahari workshops, 17th to 19th century. (These originated in the foothills of the Himalayas and are typified by a clear and direct presentation of traditional Indian themes)


VII. Different Strands: Works from local and little-known centers, 17th to 19th century. (Outside the mainstreams of Indian painting, significant local styles arose to meet local needs. Paintings from regions far from Mughal influence are brought together in this section)


VIII. Changing Tastes: Paintings made chiefly under European influence, 18th to 19th century. (The pictures identify changes brought on by British influences in particular. Artists are seen painting in the service of scientific inquiry and executing portraits in their studios)

The works in "Domains of Wonder" were selected by India's foremost art historian, B. N. Goswamy, and Caron Smith, deputy director of the Rubin Museum, from a collection amassed by Edwin Binney 3rd, now belonging to the San Diego Museum of Art. With more than 1,450 examples, the San Diego Museum of Art's Edwin Binney 3rd Collection is renowned worldwide as one of the largest and most important concentrations of South Asian painting outside of India. The comprehensive nature of this collection is unique in its ability to provide a complete overview of Indian court painting with examples representing the best of each school.

Richly hybrid, this exhibition is a substantial meal on its own and a must for all.

By Anu Ghosh Bharucha

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