Theses Doctoral

Picturing India's "Land of Kings" Between the Mughal and British Empires: Topographical Imaginings of Udaipur and its Environs

Khera, Dipti Sudhir

Eighteenth-century paintings depicting the courtly culture of Udaipur have been widely described as iconic images representing the decadent "voluptuous inactivity" of Indian princes within idyllic palaces. More recently, scholars have interpreted such paintings as royal portraits constituting meaningful assertions of political and cultural power. Yet scholars have overlooked a topographical genre of painting in which Udaipur artists not only portrayed the ruler's face but also captured the charisma of Udaipur's urban space. This dissertation examines the means by which artists pictured Udaipur and its environs for multiple patrons and mixed audiences, thereby constructing the city's memory and mapping diverse territorial claims of regional kings, courtly elites, and merchants, as well as religious institutions and the emergent British Empire. Central to this account is a corpus of large-scale paintings, scrolls, drawings, and maps made in a time period of transitions in northwestern India, marked by several new courtly and non-courtly alliances, between the decentralization of the Mughal Empire in the early 1700s and the proclamation of British rule at the Ajmer Durbar in 1832. I argue that itinerant artists practiced their arts literally and metaphorically in between empires, and thus formulated their subjective, and, at times, subversive interpretations of urbanity, territoriality, and history as they circulated among various domains. By tracing the critical role played by artistic practices in the British Political Agent James Tod's political and historical creation of "Rajasthan"--the land of kings--this dissertation challenges the dominant narrative that has mediated this region's architecture, landscape, and history. Separate chapters are devoted to shifts in artistic practice, from the painting of genealogical and poetic manuscripts to large-scale topographical paintings, relating them to tropes of praise, pleasure, and commemoration in the court's literary culture, mediation of urban memory, emergent forms of mapping, and spatial practices of processions. Udaipur's artists like Ghasi, who was also a "native" artist-assistant to Tod, the region's first British colonial agent, rendered Tod's explorations in the form of courtly processions while also adapting drafted architectural drawings for the depiction of Udaipur's princely domains. I compare the works of Ghasi and Tod, among several others, with those of artists working for the Jain religious and mercantile community. These little-studied paintings suggest the paradigmatic ways in which local artists reevaluated established pictorial genres and tropes for the purpose of mapping environs in relation to the emerging presence of the British Empire and reconfiguration of regional polities, religious sects, and mercantile communities. The visualization of South Asia's urban environs has largely been understood through the lens of the nineteenth-century British colonial archive of images and maps. Systematic studies of alternate imaginings found in contemporaneous pre-colonial Indian art have been all but absent. Addressing this lacuna, this dissertation cumulatively highlights a largely unknown visual archive of images of pre-colonial Indian cities to examine how both Indian and British artists imagined their urban environs for varied patrons. It contributes to a growing body of scholarship on the importance of affect in understanding epistemic practices and the nature of political, cultural, and artistic transitions in the long eighteenth century in the Indian subcontinent.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Dehejia, Vidya
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 7, 2013