A Princely Procession of Color

This enchanting Indian miniature of a prince setting out on the hunt defies its size. The image itself, as opposed to the decorated page on which it appears, measures no more than 7-1/2 by 6-1/2 inches. But by the felicitous self-sufficiency of its composition and the implication of an idealized natural world beyond its confines, it has an elegant scale.

It is not monumental or heroic, but in its own terms it has complete conviction.

As painting, it is a wonderful balancing act. Strictly limited areas of lucid pure color - the red, the blue, the sharp greens - are set like precious stones against the contrasting neutral background.

The judicious artist is like a musical composer who knows with uncanny intuition how to deploy colors, like notes, so that they sing tellingly against each other. He allows his image of royalty and nature an astonishing opulence, but does not overstate. He is never loud, never vulgar. He also balances the many exquisitely delineated details with broader areas like the sky and the mottled white of the horse. Details do not outweigh the whole.

Scholars of Indian art attribute this miniature to the Mughal court painter Muhammad 'Ali, and date it about 1610 (the borders date about 30 years later).

The work belongs to the Aga Khan and his wife, and is part of a traveling exhibition of their collection of Islamic and Indian paintings. The next venue: the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., May 16-Aug. 9. A fine book accompanies the exhibition.

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