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Embracing Lovers with Sparklers
India (Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow), ca. 1775
Pigments on Paper, 7 1/16 x 4 1/2 in (18 x 11.4cm)
Published: Khandalavala and Chandra 1965, no. 53

Embracing lovers were a popular subject in eighteenth-century court circles, especially in the pleasure-loving atmosphere that prevailed among the rulers and nobles of Oudh state in Uttar Pradesh, just before its takeover by the British. Perhaps a premonition of the state’s fate is reflected in the somewhat pensive faces of the couple, which do not sparkle even as they steal a kiss while holding their sparklers at bay. Both are Muslims, and the occasion may well have been the Hindu festival of Diwali. Although not inscribed, such a pretty picture could have been an artist’s attribute to his patron on a special occasion or perhaps a work prepared for the bazaar.

Be that as it may, it is a delicate picture in which the lovers seem to be dancing a slow foxtrot on a terrace. With exquisitely detailed attire, their forms are brilliantly illuminated by the glow from the sparklers, which have also caused the billowing smoke above. Noteworthy is the technique of rendering the tiny silver sparks of the two sparklers. The picture may have been painted by Faizullah, one of the artists working at the Oudh court.

An identical composition in the Sir Cowasji Jahangir collection in Bombay (now Mumbai) has a short inscription identifying the male as Jahangir (see Khandalavala and Chandra 1985, p. 22 and no. 53). While such an attribution cannot be accepted at face value and may reveal the lingering nostalgia for the imperial Mughals, it should be recalled that there is a well- known picture with similarly embracing lovers thought to represent Jahangir and Nurjahan in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is an imperial Mughal painting (Pal 1993, pp. 259-61, no. 71). The lovers here are coupled in a mirror image and do not drink, as does the male in the seventeenth-century picture by the Mughal master Govardhan. However, a more direct version of that study of dalliance was attempted by another artist in Oudh at about the same time as the Ford picture (Khandalavala and Chandra 1985, no. 51).

all text and images © The Trustees of the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore

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