18

Raja Shamsher Sen of Mandi (1727-1781), Mandi

Opaque pigment on paper heightened with gold

Image 24 x 17.2 cm. ; folio 29 x 22.7 cm. Circa 1770 - 1780

The historical accounts of the life of Shamser Sen and the numerous supporting paintings produced during his lifetime describe one of the most unusual reigns in the Punjab Hills. Inheriting the throne at the age of five from his magnetic grandfather, the self-appointed ‘conduit to the gods’ Sidh Sen (see p. 20–23 in this catalogue), it is hardly surprising that he took to what has been described as ‘bizarre, lewd, crazy habits, while consorting with low companions’ and ‘transvestites’. The composition is a standard form repeated throughout the Indian painting tradition and the raja is presented without any indication of a penchant for strange costumes or less than desirable companions. The only indication of something being amiss is the low stubbly beard, ash-smeared forehead and the peculiar flower strands falling from his turban that he used as a veil, which is currently swept to one side. In discussion of an almost identical portrait in his own collection, Archer goes further and described him as ‘a great lazy figure, loaded with thick garlands and tasseled flowers, his oafish face puffing out spirals of hookah smoke’. There are subtle differences between the Archer page and the present painting and it is difficult to determine which was the first generation. The treatment of the eyes of the raja and two attendant figures are rounded and more sensitively modeled. Whereas the treatment of the raja’s jewelry, morchal handle, textiles, and cup of the hookah are more detailed in the present painting. Other notable differences are the treatment of the multi-coloured streaked sky, the bolster and rug ornamented with flowers as opposed to the more common bands and wriggly lines. The artist responsible for the present page appears to have been more concerned with the minor ornamental details. Together with the sharper pointed eyes of the attendant figures, this may suggest a later date compared with the Archer page. Regardless of date the present page is perhaps more dramatic in terms of the richer palette and the overall impact of the principle figure.