A Female Devotee
A female devotee making a namaste gesture with her hands is depicted before an altar which supports a chalice with emanating smoke. She has removed her shoes and is dressed in a full, diaphanous skirt (ghagra) with floral patterns and richly embroidered edgings, striped pyjamas underneath and a blouse (choli); a light odhni covers her head and body. The altar and the chalice are both classical in shape. The scene is set within a landscape of trees, flowers, distant mountains and a lake. The trees are blue- green and the flowers are red and pink, whilst the white lines on the water indicate waves. The landscape shows a mixture of Chinese and European features; the pine tree behind the devotee is characteristic of the Chinese painting tradition whilst the clouds and the trees by the lake are reminiscent of European landscapes. The altar and the chalice are derived from classical European forms, created by an artist unfamiliar with devotional rituals in an Indian cultural context (for an Indian reverse glass painting depicting a Zoroastrian prayer scene, see Granoff, fig. 8).
Part of a Series of Reverse Glass Paintings.
These six reverse glass paintings were produced by Chinese artists for an elite Indian clientele. There was not only a high demand for Chinese reverse glass paintings in Europe and America, but they were also exported from the mid-18th century onwards to the west coast of India by Parsi traders. By the late-18th century Chinese commercial artists had settled in western India to produce such paintings. These included Chinese artists who were employed at the royal courts of the princely states, for example, Kutch and Mysore.
The reverse glass painting technique originated in 15th–16th century Europe, and it is thought that Jesuit missionaries introduced it to China, where reverse glass paintings were made as early as the 1730s. They became very popular in the Chinese export art trade, which began in the 18th century and reached its height between 1800–1850, catering for the demand in the West for paintings and porcelain made in China. Guangzhou (Canton) was the centre of production for export art, including reverse glass paintings.
In export art, the Chinese artists applied European visual representation together with Chinese artistic features. Thus, the end result was a hybrid product made to meet Western demand and taste for the exotic but with some familiar characteristics to the intended viewer. As the term implies, in reverse glass paintings, the artist paints the image in reverse on the back of a sheet of glass, using a master drawing to transpose the outline, to which colours were applied, beginning with any shading and highlighting and followed by the body colour. At the end of the process, the glass is turned over and the finished picture is viewed from the front, unpainted side of the glass.
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