Rob Linrothe. Keys to Victory: Letters, Liaisons and Chaise Longues in Tipu Sultan’s Murals
Consider the umbrella, its handle grasped firmly like a badge of office by a well-dressed Indian courtier. It might be challenging to see in this now-familiar, mundane collapsible bumbershoot a ‘key to victory’, except perhaps over lashing monsoon rain or the scorching Indian sun. Yet it is representative of a series of European material objects – or their representations – adopted by Tipu Sultan, a ruler of the kingdom of Mysore (r. 1782-99), and his princely and courtly allies and depicted in the murals of his summer reception palace, Darya Daulat near Mysore, Karnataka, south India. The newly minted umbrella, which was popularized first in 18th century France, finds its place among painted interiors furnished with Parisian chaises longues, end tables supporting flower arrangements or crystal vases that could have been transplanted from a French hotel particulier, Delft-like floor tiles, and billowy stage curtains tied with tasselled ropes. Collectively, these objects and decorative accoutrements suggest an attitude of openness to innovations from various sources, including Europe. The adoption of such elements may have marked Indian elites as privileged and sophisticated, but to judge by the murals, this was done without surrendering a fundamentally local, if grand, identity as signified by the Indian clothes and other indigenous indicators of rank, such as bejewelled turbans, deferential attendants, swords, walking sticks and the like.