A miniature painting from Kota reveals the artists’ love for Elephants

Elephants have held a prominent position in the royal courts of India. They were considered not only the most auspicious, but also the most ferocious – which made them indispensable in the battlefield or during hunts. The sheer number of artworks featuring elephants created in early 18th-century Kota (Rajasthan) reinforces their popularity, and the artists’ love for elephants!

During the 17-19th century, Kota, an offshoot of Bundi state, flourished and outgrew into an extraordinary kingdom, known for its paintings.

The Elephant family, in the N C Mehta Collection (housed at L D Museum) is a lesser known 18th-century painting by a Kota artist. Take a look!

This painting depicts a simple scene, featuring a three-member elephant family driven by a King and his son.

As Prof. Parimoo reads  ‘The mood of the painting is lyrical yet dynamic, in the manner that the massive elephant lifts his legs to move forward. The artist has conspicuously delineated its white curvy tusk.

detail of an elephant with ivory tusks rendered in Kota-style miniature painting
[ Detail ] Elephant Family

All the three elephants are elaborately caparisoned and the two riders are obviously royal personages, who are seated like mahouts holding goads in their hands. It appears that the King and the Prince are enjoying a joy ride on the elephant, which the elephants themselves seem to be enjoying. The eyes of the elephants indicate a curious satisfaction. In the intricate positioning amidst the space devised by the artist, the small elephant cub stands well protected between the parent elephants. The young prince riding on the female elephant at the distance has turned his head over his shoulder as if communicating with his father who is riding on the male elephant. [Indeed] it could be ascribed to the Masters of Kota painter.’

a Kota-style painting of a boy mahout on female elephant looking back
[ detail 2 ] Elephant Family

Masters of Kota painters

Many of the 17th-18th century paintings from Kota are without a signature, making it difficult to identify the artists. Scholars therefore refer to them as ‘Master of the Elephants’, ‘Kota Master’ or ‘Masters of Kota’.

To these Masters, the bulky elephants were dynamic, ferocious, playful, and always in action. The painters saw in the elephants, the strength and ferocity equivalent to that of a lion.

If you see some other paintings – Rao Ram Singh I of Kota hunting a rhinoceros c.1700 (Private Collection), Rao Surjan’s elephants-Bhalerao and Anipa c.1720, from the CSMVS Mumbai collection, and An elephant hunt attributed to Niju, c. 1730-1740, you’d notice how distinct Elephant Family is, in the treatment of the subject & yet similar in the painting style.

What makes ‘Elephant Family’ unique: Man in harmony with nature !

Even as the painting is comparable to others in terms of the placement of images, the treatment of strokes, texture created and the application of colours, it hints at a departure from the theme of violent combats to that of simplicity and ‘leisure’. It expresses a healthy bond between man and animal. It is a fine example of looking at the subject (elephants) with a different lens.


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Curatorial Team, Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Museum

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Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Museum
Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Museumhttp://www.ldmuseum.co.in
The Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Museum at Ahmedabad has a comprehensive collection of Indian Art that includes Sculptures, Bronzes, Manuscript Paintings, Miniature Paintings and Drawings, Wood carving, ancient and contemporary Coins and examples of Beadwork. The museum, which is part of the L D Institute of Indology is best known for some of its prominent collections on Jain Art, especially from the Gujarat region. L D Museum also houses the prestigious N.C Mehta Collection of Miniature Paintings.

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A miniature painting from Kota reveals the artists’ love for Elephants