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LADY ADORNING HERSELF IN A MIRROR. Illustration to the musical mode, Vilaval Ragini Malwa, Central India, c. 1630 .British Museum (192412-28-03)
LADY ADORNING HERSELF IN A MIRROR


The present picture shows the great style of Baz Bahadur (Plate 3) as it had developed in the course of eighty-five years. The chic ferocity and glamorous distortions have vanished but the figures retain a taut and tense precision. Colour is used with bold invigorating clarity and there is the same reliance on tart simplification especially in the sky, tree and building. The feminine shape no longer conforms to earlier ideals but various detailsthe low flat domes and arrow-like bandbetray the picture's Mandu ancestry. The most arresting likeness, however, is in the towering tree which rears its sharp and stylized shape against a background of impassioned storm. In a painting from the Fifty-four Stanzas, the poet-hero is shown kneeling at his mistress's feet, while a tree closely similar in form, occupies the same insistent position. It was in the brilliant simplification of foliage that the Shirazi style of Persian painting left perhaps its greatest mark on Malwa painting.
The subject of the picture is one of the ladies of Hindola Raga, 'the swinging music', tidying her hair with the help of a maid. The great moon-like mirror is perhaps an image for 'the mind's eye', the lady fancying that it is her lover, not herself, whom she sees. The fact that her skin is dark blue shows that in order to maintain his interest, she has resorted to a practice current among Hindu ascetics, and has smeared her body with ashes. Asceticism was believed to confer supernormal powers and for this reason was sometimes adopted by ladies anxious to ensure their lovers' return. The choice of red for skirt and bodice, echoed in the red alcove and niches, symbolizes her passionate longing.