Shuja ud Daula Is Visited By Two Courtiers

By National Museum - New Delhi

Shuja ud Daula, Nawab of Awadh, Receiving Two Officers in a Garden (Mid 18th Century, according to scholars Terrence Mc Inerney and Malini Roy) by Attributed to the artist Nidha MalNational Museum - New Delhi

The painting depicts Shuja ud Daula, the Nawab Wazir of Awadh, in his late 30’s seated on a terrace against a brocade bolster under a gold canopy.

It overlooks a cascading fountain amidst a manicured garden with parterres of flowers encircled by trees laden with luscious fruits. 

Two courtiers stand facing the seated Nawab, one with his hands clasped respectfully to his chest, while the other holding a folded piece of paper.

A retainer stands behind the seated Nawab and holds a morchal as a mark of the distinguished status of the Nawab.

A retainer stands behind the seated Nawab and holds a morchal as a mark of the distinguished status of the Nawab.

They wear thin white muslin jamas...

..and Shuja ud Daula is only distinguished from his inferiors by the brocaded band tied around the lower edge of his turban, a fashion distinctive to the nobility of Awadh..

..and an intricately detailed gold and white cummerbund.

His enormous wealth and status are revealed by the sumptuous objects that he possesses..

...the gilt parapet and the golden canopy of his palace...

..his gilt sword..

..and the gold betel box from which he has consumed a paan.. evidenced by the redness on his lips.

This quality of rendering emotionally restrained yet psychologically acute and probing portraits was a hallmark of the paintings from the period of the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah, a style that was favoured by many artists who were patronised by Shuja ud Daula, such as Nidha Mal, the artist believed to have painted this folio.

Nidha Mal’s works are characterised by a cold formalism, the compositions marked by a rigorous balance and strict geometrical structure, a characteristic flatness of the pictorial space, hard outlines in rendering the figures and a pervasive use of white.

This painting uses the compositional devices of a flattened yet spread out foreground, where the characters of importance are placed, an unimportant mid-ground that leads to a distant blank wall, serving as a backdrop to the painting is a characteristic format used by the academic style of the Mughal court favoured in the mid-eighteenth century.

Shuja ud Daula assumes a position of authority by his seated position..

..and by the manner in which he penetratingly gazes..

..and gesture of his hand raised in an attitude of instruction.

The courtier closest to him, meanwhile, is rendered with a gaze that suggests a clever and alert disposition.

The courtier standing behind him has an air of one who is patiently awaiting his turn.

The overall mood is dignified and restrained and serene.

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