Manuel da Cunha Maldonado

Indian customs, costumes and occupations
India, Goa
ca. 1846-1847
Watercolour on paper
18 x 27 cm

A set of loose watercolours on paper depicting figures of different castes, trades and occupations of Portuguese-ruled Goa, made ca. 1846-1847 by Manuel da Cunha Maldonado, a cartographer and gunnery sergeant. In the late eighteenth century, a number of amateur and professional European artists visited India and recorded Indian life, architecture, costumes and landscapes. While some mostly recorded architectural scenes that would appeal to their British clientele, other painters – of what would be known as Company paintings (kampani kalam in Hindi) – specialised, as the present examples show, in figures of different castes, trades and occupations with an emphasis on differences in costume. Other artists focused on natural history paintings (mostly plants and birds), sometimes made on a larger scale or using different media, such as gouache on sheets of mica. Considered a hybrid Indo-European style of painting, it was predominantly employed in India by native artists working for European patrons between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It blended elements from Rajput and Mughal paintings with European conventions of perspective and shading using watercolour on paper rather than the traditional gouache. Leading centres of this style of painting were the main British settlements of Calcutta, Chennai, Delhi, Lucknow, Patna, Thanjavur and Bangalore, where the most wealthy patrons were based. Little is known of the production of similar paintings in Portuguese-ruled India, its patrons and painters, or the variety of subjects commissioned. Earlier depictions of Asian (not only Indian) figures of different geographical origins, occupations and costume, though rare, are also known, and mention should be made of the famous Indo-Portuguese album, the Codex Casanatense 1889 – a “costume and customs” book on the different Asian peoples encountered by the Portuguese –, which has been attributed to an artist trained in a Sultanate studio early in the sixteenth century, possibly in Mandu or Gujarat, and dated to the 1540s. Other comparable works include the illustrations made for Jan Huygen van Linchoten’s Itinerario (1596) later reprinted in his Icones (1604). The present set belongs to a small group of similar paintings, both loose or bound in volumes, by Maldonado, sometimes in conjunction with Joaquim António Roncon, who might have been responsible for their colouring, of which one example, from the Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino, Lisbon, has been exhibited in recent years.

read full description