Maharaja Man Singh of Ratlam

Maharaja Man Singh (r. 1716-1743) of Ratlam
Sitamau or Ratlam, 1790-1800

Opaque pigments with gold on paper
Image: 21.6 x 17.5 cm

Inscription: (back) Maharaja Shri mansingh ji ri Chaabi (Ratlam)

In 1684 Maharaja Shri Kesho Das of Ratlam was deposed after it was learned that state employees had murdered an imperial tax collector who was in town to collect a tax on non-Muslims. He would then go to Delhi to offer his services to Aurangazeb and would eventually earn his way back into favor, later founding the kingdom of Sitamau in 1695 on land that was granted to him by the emperor.

Very little is known about Maharaja Man Singh who ruled the relatively small state of Ratlam. Maharaja Fateh Singh of Sitamau, the grandson of the founder of Ratlam and probable patron of this portrait, was Man Singh’s descendant. This work may have been part of a larger group of portraits of Ratlam and Sitamau rulers commissioned at the time in Sitamau where a vibrant school of painting flourished during the late 18th century until the mid 19th century. A portrait of Fateh Singh of Sitamau by the same artist1 was formerly in the Sven Gahlin collection. In fact, if one looks closely, you will find a preliminary drawing of a portrait of Fateh Singh just below our portrait.

1. Sotheby’s, London, 10/06/2015, The Sven Gahlin Collection, Lot 50, Sotheby’s attributes this work to the eccentric painter-poet Swarup Ram who worked for Maharaja Fateh Singh during the late 18th century. However, the work is closer in style to another artist working in Sitamau at the time. A portrait of Fateh Singh enjoying a musical performance signed by one Musvar Lal Chand and, presumably his son, Tara Chand is in the Binney Collection at the SDMA (1990.978). If the family workshop model was used in Sitamau, as we have seen in several other centers of painting, Lal Chand may be the eldest in a family of painters which included Tara Chand and the more well known Pyar Chand, both of whom were active at Sitamau during the first half of the 19th century. Two works in the Mittal collection in Hyderabad are also likely the work of Lal or Tara Chand (See John Seyller and Jagdish Mittal, Central Indian Paintings in the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, 2019, catalog numbers 63, and 64).