The Maharaja of Benares

Price on Inquiry

All orders are insured for transit.

This item cannot be shipped outside India.


Size: 28.3 x 24.4 inches
Medium: Reverse Glass Painting
Origin: Delhi
Publication: Page 205, Reverse Glass Painting in India (2017) by Prof. Anna L. Dallapiccola


This is a reverse glass painting from Delhi. According to a description of the painting published on page 205 of the book ‘Reverse Glass Painting in India’ by Professor Anna L. Dallapiccola:
“Maharaja Bahadur Sri Sir Ishwari Prasad Narayan Singh (1822-1889) succeeded his uncle in 1835. He was then 13 years old and was the first of his line to be granted the title of Maharaja. He was a staunch ally of the British, assisting them in many ways during the First War of Independence (1857) and was rewarded with the rank of Maharaja Bahadur in 1859. In 1867, he was granted a personal 13-gun salute; a decade later he was elevated to Knight Grand Commander Star of India. Later, he became a member of the Viceroy's Legislative Council and his greatest achievement was to restore all the family lands that had been lost to them for over a century. In 1889, he was given the title of His Highness. He died several months later, aged 67, and was succeeded by his nephew.
The richly dressed and bejewelled Maharaja of Benares is shown in a relaxed pose with a huqqa. A bushy, imposing moustache almost hides the smile which imparts a refreshing informality to his face. His turban is decorated by pearls, emeralds hang from the sarpech, and on the side is a turra from which drop five strings of pearls. There is a necklace of precious stones around his neck. His angarkha is enlivened by embroideries at the cuffs and around the neck and the front. A large sash is tied around his waist.”
  • ABOUT Reverse Glass Paintings

    Reverse glass painting is a fascinating, yet comparatively unknown genre of Indian art. The origin of the reverse glass painting technique can be traced back to Italy, from where it spread across Europe in the 16th century. It was introduced into China by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th and early 18th century. By the second half of the 18th century, the technique was brought to India by way of the China Trade, and there flourished a brisk market for Chinese reverse glass paintings on the west coast of India. With the expansion of the British empire, the paintings found takers amongst wealthy Indian aristocrats who sought to mimic the colonial officers. And it was not long before Indian artists learnt the technique and began producing reverse glass paintings reflecting Indian tradition.

    In the late 18th and early 19th century, in southern India, art was rather decadent, with a high demand for religious paintings embellished with gems, pearls and cut glass. Reverse glass paintings came as a cheap alternative, soon growing in popularity not just amongst aristocrats, but reaching a far wider audience. In the small state of Thanjavur, this distinctive school of glass painting thrived for more than a hundred years. The technique spread across western and southern India and even to former provincial Mughal capitals of Oudh and Murshidabad, as well as Rajasthan and central India, to some extent.

    The term reverse glass painting describes both, how the painting is executed, and how, once completed, it is viewed. A laborious technique, it required an artist to have a good memory of the whole composition because its components were sequentially covered while he completed the work. Artists first began with placing a clear sheet of glass on their master drawing, then drew the finer lines and details. Any foil, paper or sequins, if used, were added at this stage. Then, the larger areas of opaque colour (usually tempera) were applied, and ‘shading’ was used to achieve gradation of colour. The painting was finally mounted with the unpainted side foremost.

    Scenes and characters from Indian mythology are recurrent in Indian reverse glass paintings, while secular themes such as portraits of kings, nobles, courtesans and musicians are also commonly depicted. The paintings are characterized by their bold style, rich colours and subjects portrayed in opulence.

    Imported from Europe via China, a distinctive feature of the reverse glass technique in India was its eclectic style - a fascinating mixture of Indian and Western elements. This style reflected the aesthetics and aspirations of the time. The popularity of theatre, for instance, can be seen in the elaborate curtains that frame most paintings. Elements drawn from colonial architecture, interior decoration, and fashion also permeated the repertoire of the artists, evident in the way they portrayed deities and mythological incidents.

    While reverse glass paintings flourished in India until the mid-19th century, eventually, lithographs, which were cheaper to produce and less fragile, replaced them forever.

    Read More