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Not currently on display at the V&A

Figure

ca. 1830 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Although the name of the first Sikh maharaja of the Panjab, Ranjit Singh (1780–1839), was very well known in northern India during his reign, few outside the Panjab would have known what he looked like. Lacking any portrait miniature from which to copy a likeness, the carver of this ivory statuette (who was probably working in Delhi, a major centre of the craft), gave the maharaja the majestic appearance and jewellery of a Mughal emperor. In reality Ranjit Singh was renowned for his simple dress and plain features, bearing the ravages of childhood smallpox, which had permanently scarred his skin. It also left him blind in one eye, a detail that the carver has incorporated. The statuette is similar to a ‘portrait’ of the maharaja in an illustrated copy of the ‘Tazkirat ul-’umara’ (‘Historical notices of princely families [of Rajasthan and the Punjab’]) by Colonel James Skinner of about 1830, suggesting that the carver used this as his model.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Carved ivory, with traces of gold and pigment
Brief Description
Ivory model of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Front View. Delhi, ca. 1830.
Physical Description
Ivory model of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Front View. Delhi, ca. 1830.
Dimensions
  • Height: 13.8cm
  • Diameter of base diameter: 4.6cm
  • Depth: 4cm
  • Width: 4.8cm
Gallery Label
FIGURE OF MAHARAJA RANJIT SINGH Carved ivory, with traces of gold and pigment Delhi c. 1830 IS.60-1998 In his own lifetime, the renown of Maharaja Ranjit Singh spread far beyond the boundaries of Punjab. However, relatively few portraits were in circulation outside the region, and artists in major cities like Delhi relied on written or verbal descriptions of him. The ivory carver knew only that the ruler was blind in one eye due to childhood smallpox, and gives him Delhi-style clothing, including turban. Similar depictions bearing no resemblance to the Maharaja were done by Delhi’s painters at the same time. (august 2017)
Production
As Delhi was a known centre of ivory-carving, the close relationship between this figure and a 'portrait' of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Tazkhirat-ul-umana, a volume containing a collection of portraits of leading figures from the Panjab and Rajasthan, suggests a similar date and provenance for the figure: Delhi ca. 1830.
Subject depicted
Summary
Although the name of the first Sikh maharaja of the Panjab, Ranjit Singh (1780–1839), was very well known in northern India during his reign, few outside the Panjab would have known what he looked like. Lacking any portrait miniature from which to copy a likeness, the carver of this ivory statuette (who was probably working in Delhi, a major centre of the craft), gave the maharaja the majestic appearance and jewellery of a Mughal emperor. In reality Ranjit Singh was renowned for his simple dress and plain features, bearing the ravages of childhood smallpox, which had permanently scarred his skin. It also left him blind in one eye, a detail that the carver has incorporated. The statuette is similar to a ‘portrait’ of the maharaja in an illustrated copy of the ‘Tazkirat ul-’umara’ (‘Historical notices of princely families [of Rajasthan and the Punjab’]) by Colonel James Skinner of about 1830, suggesting that the carver used this as his model.
Bibliographic Reference
Stronge, S. (Ed.) "The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms", V&A, 1999cat. 101, p. 222.
Collection
Accession Number
IS.60-1998

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record createdNovember 17, 1998
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