The images of amorous tenderness assembled in this exhibition of Indian miniature paintings seem like episodes in various couples' love relationships. But far from just depicting scenes of requited love, these paintings also show us moments of despair and melancholy.
Each painting represents a specific mood, as defined by Indian musical theory, and behind each image lies a complex system of aesthetic experience. Each mood is characterized as a colour or hue (Sanskrit: 'raga'), with the idea being that the colour rubs off on the listener, in music, and on the viewer in painting. A compilation of different moods forms a 'garland' (Sanskrit: 'mala'), hence the name 'ragamala', 'garland of colours'.
At the heart of the 20 miniature paintings on show here is the specific mood of the protagonists. How each mood is rendered varies from artist to artist and from school to school. Sometimes they are evident in symbolic embellishments, such as plants in full bloom or pairs of birds that provide a background accompaniment to the respective mood. In emphasizing mood, the artist may, however, pursue a different strategy, forgoing such embellishments in favour of a pairing down of the setting to a near-monochrome horizon.
The delicate fabrics and fine jewellery, the figure of the palace woman, and the architecture reflect the culture of the court in 17th and 18th century India, for whose members the paintings were created and by whom they were originally admired, in the form of bound albums.
Two historical Indian musical instruments, a tube zither (rudra vina) and a long-necked lute (tanpura) from the collection of the Ethnologisches Museum are also on display and further illustrate the connection between music and painting.
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