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Traditional, Modern & Contemporary Indian Art Traditional, Modern & Contemporary Indian Art RAJA RAVI VARMA (Attributed to) 1848 - 1906
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Collection of a prominent business house, that was closely associated with and were benefactors of the Kochi Royal Family.
"It should strike the note of the appearance of inevitableness, as Nature strikes the note of divnity in her works."
- C.R Ramanujacharya (Masterpieces in Art: Ravi Varma's Hamsa Damyanti, pg 4, Published by GA Natesen and Co., Madras, 1930s)
Raja Ravi Varma, the Painter Prince from Kerala, was not only a maverick artist but a revolutionary as well. In addition to giving face to the gods and goddesses of India through a painterly language, he would pioneer a style that was a fusion of the Indian and Western and also be instrumental in making the lithography press a part of the Indian cultural milieu.
Ravi Varma's family was part of the royal family of Travancore and so as a youth, he spent much time at the royal court. Here he was exposed to the beautiful Kerala murals and also the European master Theodore Jensen, who would influence the European techniques and elements in his work. The works of the Italian greats were also extremely influential. At court was presumably where he came into contact with those of the Christian faith.
When he found success as an artist, commissions of note had also featured persons of the Christian faith, notably a full-size portrait of The Duke of Buckingham, then Madras Governor (Parsram Mangharam: Raja Ravi Varma - The Painter Prince, pg 20, 2007). This is to illuminate that though Ravi Varma is known chiefly as a painter of traditionally Hindu subjects, his oeuvre was far more wide-ranging and embraced various cultures, in terms of technique as well as subject. However, since his shrewd marketing mind was always whirring, it is probably the reason this particular work remained unsigned; to preserve his image as the painter of the Hindu pantheon.
When it comes to this painting of a Portuguese subject, Missionary turned Merchant to First Saint of India, St. Gonsalo Garcia, one must remember that there would have been a precedent for painting Portuguese subjects since the Portuguese influx into India began with Vasco Da Gama landing in Calicut, Kerala. The work, though a commonly depicted Christian subject, features characteristic Ravi Varma hallmarks, the distinctive chiaroscuro in his peerless oils and the play of light and shadow. A marked halo around the subject's head denotes his divine purity, his collar is high necked, and his eyes are turned heavenwards in reverence, similar to paintings of European saints such as St. Don Bosco and St. Francis Xavier; we know how influential European works were for Ravi Varma's own style.
In the background, one can observe the hills that rise up from an island. It is also interesting to note that the saint's site of crucifixion was also the hills. Here, the view depicts the hills against the backdrop of an island in the early morning dawn, evoked with the distinctive Ravi Varma flair for detailing the background of his landscapes. The horizon has been depicted in the typical Ravi Varma style, the glow and play of light and shadow under a dark blue sky a hallmark that is often the distinctive indication in his mythological works; the illumination in the distance could perhaps be said to be a way to highlight the subject's veneration into sainthood. Even the detailing of the fingers is finely and elegantly executed, in the style that is very similar to other, more well-known Ravi Varma works.
An interesting fact about Garcia, here, is that he was half Indian, his mother being of Konkan descent, making himself, as a subject, an interesting parallel to Ravi Varma's Indo-European fusion style of painting. Today Garcia is remembered as the patron saint of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vasai, Mumbai and, now, as the immortal subject of this masterpiece. Another point of note is that Ravi Varma had a close relationship with the Malyalee Christians of Kerala, for whom St. Gonsalo Garcia was a significant figure.
Illustrated here is also the portrait of St. Grergorios Geevarghese Chathuruty (Parumala Thirumeni) which is quite well known, almost to the point of being revered. This is in no small part because it was created by Raja Ravi Varma, one of the most legendary painters; this becomes eminently apparent in the way light and shade are represented, in the chiaroscuro, the detailing. It shares these marked similarities to the work of St. Garcia and to Ravi Varma's other paintings; the detailing of the gown and of the fingers is notable. Currently it is in the Attamangalam St. John's Jacobite Syrian Church, Kumarakom near Kottayam. This work is reputed to have been commissioned by a parishioner named Dr. M I Philip Muripurakal (Peelikunju Appothikiri). He hailed from Elayiduthusseri and claimed to want the portrait for the hospital at Kumarakom in 1905. On his death, the custody of the portrait was given to the church. That was in 1932 and the portrait has been kept there ever since.
Condition NotesConserved & cleaned