Raja Ravi Varma's Enchanting Floral Tales

Raja Ravi Varma used plants extensively throughout the various themes he painted -- while portraying worship and marriage rituals, as decorative elements, as symbol and metaphor and as part of the many natural and built environments that he depicted. 

Raja Ravi Varma (2018-03-10) by Rukmini VarmaRaja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906), was born into the lap of art. An uncanny eye for detail combined with his realistic portrayal of contemporary and mythological figures earned him a place in the pantheon.

Lady With A Fruit (1894) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

Some of Ravi Varma's paintings directly allude to plants through their titles such as 'Lady With A Fruit', others included the presence of botanical motifs in various ways.

Holding an orange in her hand is suggestive of the subject's state as the fruit is associated with fertility.

Vishwamitra Menaka (1890) by Ravi Varma PressOriginal Source: From the Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

In mythological narratives and in scenarios from scriptures, Ravi Varma's depiction is beyond extraordinary.

Different types of foliage can be seen in the landscapes Ravi Varma portrayed. In this painting, there is a row of coniferous trees like spruce and fir that suggests the scene to be in the Himalayas.

In many instances, a single flower in the hand of the subject, be it male or female is often missed given the detailing of the painting. Here Menaka courts Vishwamitra with a Frangipani flower.

Named for the shape of its leaves, the Elephant's Ear or Alocasia is believed to be the plant that comes down from the heavens, where Menaka has descended from to seduce Vishwamitra.

Shakuntala Sakhi (1890) by Ravi Varma PressOriginal Source: From the Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

The background imagery was as important as the main subjects for Ravi Varma, and his minute detailing of different types of plants and flowers was ingenious.

Women are seen adorned with floral jewellery and hair decoration, typically jasmine flowers, as in Shakuntala Sakhi.

Radha and Krishna (1901) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection

This painting of Radha and Krishna shows the ingenuity of the artist as he weaves in the mythological tale with an element of the oft-repeated romance in equal measure.

A shy Radha approaches Lord Krishna with a lotus in hand

Portraying the setting by the banks of a river, the artist's usage of the Banyan tree gives this painting a special, symbolic touch.

The Banyan tree is considered sacred in Hindu tradition and is one of the most venerated trees in India. The tree is also referred to as 'Kalpavriksha' or that which fulfils your wishes.

Radha is reiterating her undying devotion to Krishna by presenting him with a lotus, which symbolises purity, while standing under a banyan tree in order to have her wish fulfilled.

Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV With His Sisters Jayalakshamanni and Krishnarajamanni (1885) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Srikanta Datta Narasimharaja Wadiyar, The Palace, Mysore

This childhood portrait of Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV and his sisters, is filled with stunning details

The manner in which the artist has painted them, bedecked in jewels and silks, shows the minutest of details. Even the potted plants and background foliage have been accurately sketched.

The inclusion of a geranium shrub in a pot gives the setting a thorough touch. It is a flower which grows in abundance in the region.

Keechaka and Sairandhri (1891) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Maharaja Fatehsingh Museum, Vadodara

Blinded by a desire to possess Sairandhri, Keechaka tries to win her over and when that fails, attempts to force himself on her.

Sairandhri's attempt to convince Keechaka goes unheeded leading to a setting of disarray and despair.

The plate of fallen fruits creates a strong impact on the scene as Keechaka moves threateningly towards Sairindhri.

Raja Ravi Varma - Encounters with the Botanical Book (2019-04-28) by Raja Ravi Varma Heritage FoundationRaja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

Credits: Story

Images: On loan to Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation
Exhibit & References: Raja Ravi Varma: The Painter of Colonial India by Rupika Chawla & The Painter Prince by Parsram Mangharam

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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