This striking portrait of Shri Gusain Hari Ramji exemplifies the power and intensity of Pahari painting and is close in style and quality to several works by the artist termed the Master of the Court of Mankot. The portrait is seemingly simple in composition, but close inspection reveals a wealth of details such as Hari Ramji’s barely visible wrinkles around his eyes, the fine folds in his long white robe, and the thin bristles of his beard. This is combined with the hot and concentrated palette, with relatively large areas of strong, bright pigments set against a flat, yellow background which is characteristic of Mankot painting of the period.
Shri Gusain Hari Ramji headed the Vaishnavite establishment at Pindori from around 1676 until his death in 1718. He led a long and successful tenure at the head of the math during which numerous new adherents joined the establishment. Although recognised as an important holy figure to which several miracles are ascribed, he underwent a number of challenges, notably due to the ambitions of the math’s caretaker Shyan Das.
Similarities can be drawn with a number of Mankot portraits of the first part of the eighteenth century, notably one depicting the ruler Raja Ajmat Dev of Mankot, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, inv. no. IS.23-1974. Painted in the early eighteenth century, it also features a single figure seated leaning on a bolster against a bright yellow background. Several accessories are present, including a huqqa from which he holds the pipe near his mouth, a sabre lying in front of him, and a small spittoon.
Two further portraits should be mentioned, both attributed to the Master at the Court of Mankot, of circa 1730: one depicting Raja Medini Pal of Basohli (Rietberg Museum, Zurich, RVI 1205, see B. Goswamy, and E. Fischer, 'The Master at the Court of Mankot' in M. Beach, E. Fischer, B. Goswamy, and J. Britschgi, Masters of Indian Painting, vol.II, 1650-1900, Artibus Asiae, Supplementum 48 I/II, 2011, fig.10, p.514) the other depicting Raja Sid Sen of Mandi (Rietberg Museum, Zurich, RVI 1225, see B. Goswamy, and E. Fischer, op.cit., fig.11, p.514). There is also a strong link in format, style and palette to a well-known Mankot Bhagavata Purana series of circa 1725-30, as well as a Dasavatara series from the same period.