My Slade Lecture series intended to take up different aspects of Mughal painting and to play with method differently in each. In this special lecture, I bring the background into the foreground as I turn to a series of 18th century paintings that are marked by a keen and even vertiginous interest in perspective. These paintings are associated with the workshop of an artist named Faizullah, and were made in Lucknow, capital of a “Mughal-successor state” one of several former Mughal provinces whose governors had taken advantage of weak Mughal emperors to seize autonomy. As some of the most talented painters left the Mughal capital of Delhi for new centres of power, they reprised the visual language that had been used to aggrandize Mughal emperors in favour of their new patrons. Yet, certain genres of painting developed in the successor states that were unique to the time and place. Most notable of these is an interest in deep perspectival landscapes that take the eye on a journey that seems endless. Why is there such an interest in perspective in paintings made in these places at this time? What do the fantastically extended palaces and deep landscapes signify? Tucked into the backgrounds of these paintings, I suggest, are messages about order and disorder, sovereignty and space.

About the speaker:

Professor Kavita Singh is a Professor of Art History (recently retired) and served as the Dean at the School of Arts and Aesthetics of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree at Lady Shri Ram College, her MFA in 1987 from M.S. University, Baroda and her PhD in 1996 from Punjab University. Her research interests cover the history of Indian painting, particularly the Mughal and Rajput schools, and the history and politics of museums, with special reference to India.

Before joining JNU, Singh was Research Editor for Marg Publications, and Visiting Guest Curator at the San Diego Museum of Art during which time she co-curated the exhibition Power and Desire: South Asian Paintings from the San Diego Museum of Art, Edwin Binney 3rd Collection. The exhibition ran in New York from 10 October 2000 to 7 January 2001.

In 2007, Kavita Singh led a curatorial team for the second exhibition of the newly opened Devi Art Foundation. The exhibition had the title Where in the World. An abridged version of Kavita Singh’s introduction to the catalogue appeared online. From 2009-12 she was a partner with the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz of the Max Planck Society with Professor Dr. Gerhard Wolf and Hannah Baader for a project called The Temple and the Museum: Sites for Art in India.

In 2018, she was awarded the Infosys Prize in Humanities for her work in the field of art history and visual culture. She has received fellowships and scholarships from the Getty Research Institute, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williams College, the Nehru Trust for the Indian Collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Asia Society in New York.

Background Image: Faizullah, Entertainment in a Palace Garden. Faizabad/Lucknow, 1765-1770. Collection: Aga Khan Museum. © The Aga Khan Museum