Vilaval Ragini, from a Ragamala

Historical period(s)
ca. 1680
School
Malwa school
Medium
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Dimensions
H x W (overall): 20.6 × 14.9 cm (8 1/8 × 5 7/8 in)
Geography
India, Madhya Pradesh state, Malwa
Credit Line
Purchase and partial gift from the Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection — funds provided by the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries
Collection
Ralph and Catherine Benkaim collection
Accession Number
S2018.1.21
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Painting
Type

Painting

Keywords
flower, India, night, pavilion, ragamala, Ralph and Catherine Benkaim collection, woman
Provenance

To 1968
Sundaram, New Delhi, India. [1]

From 1968 to 2001
Ralph Benkaim (1914-2001), Beverly Hills, California, purchased from Sundaram, New Delhi, India. [2]

From 2001 to 2018
Catherine Glynn Benkaim, Beverly Hills, California, by inheritance from Ralph Benkaim in 2001. [3]

From 2018
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, partial gift and purchase from Catherine Glynn Benkaim. [4]

Notes:

[1] Ralph Benkaim purchased the painting from Sundaram, New Delhi, several years before Indian paintings were classified as antiquities by the Indian government, according to his personal records via Catherine Glynn Benkaim.

[2] See note 1.

[3] See note 1.

[4] See Acquisition Consideration Form, object file, Collections Management Office.

Previous Owner(s)

Catherine Glynn Benkaim
Ralph and Catherine Benkaim
Sundaram New Dehli, India, active 1960's

Label

In Central India, a minimalist yet evocative school of painting rather mysteriously emerged in the seventeenth century. Over the course of the century, the style and the palette of Malwa painting grew gradually more complex, as seen here in the elaborately decorated pavilion and its flamboyant garden.

Vilaval ragini is a joyous musical mode, embodied as a smiling woman looking at herself in a mirror as she gets ready to meet her lover. The interior room is a bright red, which harkens back to an earlier style of painting, the exterior is exuberant, with ornate decorations and polychrome. Flowers bloom magically outside the pavilion under a pitch-black sky.

Raga (Sanskrit, color or passion) is the term for a classical music mode, a set framework for improvisation. Having originated in the first millennium, ragas were systematized and classified during the thirteenth through sixteenth century, they were classified into ragamalas, meaning garlands of musical modes. A common system recognized six raga husbands, each "married" to five ragini wives for a total of thirty-six "families." Families of musical modes sometimes included sons or ragaputras as well. By the fifteenth century, ragas had become associated with specific moods, times, seasons, affective properties, deities, lovers, and heroes. Around 1590-1620, illustrated ragamala series became a favorite subject for Rajput patrons, as well as for some Mughals, such as Abd-ur Rahim, patron of the Freer Ramayana and the Laud Ragamala. Specific iconographies were developed for depicting each mode. These formulae lent themselves to variations, which were sometimes dependent on region.

Illustrated ragas evoke mood and engender feeling, as do musical compositions. But the connection seems to be indirect. Although some connoisseurs of music may have internally "heard" a composition when viewing its image, ragamalas were probably more broadly valued for their poetic and pictorial pleasures. The commission of a ragamala series would also have been understood as a sign of a patron's cultivated sensibility.

Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
Rights Statement

Copyright with museum