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Only known copy of a secular themed Battala woodcut print, illustrating the Raja's court

Raja Sabha. [= The Raja's court].
[Bengal (Battala region of Kolkata?)], Jadubandu Karmakar, [between 1820 and 1860 (ca. 1840?)]. Ca. 36.5 x 28 cm. Woodcut on paper. An evocative woodcut court scene in an ornamental woodcut frame, with the title and imprint in Bengali in a cartouche in the centre of the foot of the scene, just above the frame.
€ 8,500
The only known copy of an unusually early Battala woodcut print showing a lively scene at the court of an Indian raja, showing the raja and eminent courtiers, European (colonial) officers, musicians, dancers and even dogs. The present woodcut is a very rare example of the Battala woodcut prints produced in the mid-19th century in the Battala neighbourhood of Kolkota (Calcutta), moreover, it names its maker in the imprint (probably the printer and/or publisher rather than the block cutter), apparently otherwise unknown, and gives his address. These prints often showed somewhat crude but evocative religious or secular scenes, produced for people of the lower (economic) classes who could not afford the paintings that inspired these woodcuts. Estimated suggest only 100 or 200 Battala woodcut prints have survived, as they were printed on cheap, thin, low quality paper. But a secular scene such as the present one is even rarer than the more popular gods and fairy tales, whose blocks were already duplicated electrolytically in the mid-19th century (ccaha.org).
Although the human figures in the present print appear to be conceived in small groups, they overlap in ways that show they were produced from a single or at most two or possibly three blocks, but the two dogs, the frame and some of the decorative elements may have been produced from separate blocks that could be reused in different prints, like the stock blocks common in European printing of the period. The person named as the maker in the imprint of the present print was of the Karmakar caste, originally a caste of blacksmiths, but also people in other mechanical trades, including trades related to printing. Panchanan Karmakar (d. ca. 1804), for example, worked with Charles Wilkins in Hoogly (in West Bengal) to produce the first Bengali printing type, used in 1778.
The popularity of these Battala prints, and of the watercolour patas that inspired them, proved short lived. Both largely died out in the early 1880s due to the arrival of (colour) lithography, which was easier and less labour intensive and thus produced cheaper (colour) prints.
The paper is somewhat tattered, mainly at the foot, with 1 tear running 2 cm into the standing figures at the right, but the only loss is about 1 cm of the lower right corner and small parts of the foot of the woodcut frame. The paper has been reinforced on the back with 5 small pieces of tape at the head and foot. Overall in good condition. One of the rare surviving Battala woodcut prints, the only known copy showing the present scene of a raja's court and one of the few such prints showing a secular subject. For Battala prints: Anindita Ghosh, "Cheap books, bad books: contesting print cultures in colonial Bengal", in: Print areas: book history in India (2004), pp. 169-196; Faye Hirsch, "A rare kali woodcut from the era of Battala printers", in: Art in Print vol. 6, no. 3 (https://artinprint.org/article/a-rare-kali-woodcut-from-the-era-of-the-battala-printers/); Pritha Mukherjee, Battala and before (https://medium.com/the-calcutta-blog/battala-and-before-94759bab0d3e); https://ccaha.org/news/treatment-focus-19th-century-woodcut-print-kali-durga.
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Art & architecture  >  Drawings, Prints & Watercolours
Asia  >  India & Sri Lanka
Book history, education, learning & printing  >  Book History, Calligraphy & Printing