LECTURE - “Congress of Kings: Notes on a Painting of Muhammad Shah Rangila” by Kavita Singh

Cecily Pollard's picture
April 14, 2016
Massachusetts, United States
Subject Fields: 
Arabic History / Studies, Archaeology, Architecture and Architectural History, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Islamic History / Studies


Thursday, April 14, 2016 at 5:30 pm

“Congress of Kings: Notes on a Painting of Muhammad Shah Rangila”


Kavita Singh
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Fellow, 2015-16
Professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics,
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Muhammad Shah Rangila, lord of a dwindling Mughal empire from 1719-1748, is remembered for his political incompetence as well as his great appetite for pleasure. Bolstering this reputation is a famous painting that shows him in sexual congress with an as yet unidentified woman. That this is no mere scene of a private pleasure is suggested by elements of composition and iconography within the painting. The stately symmetry of the image, the presence of witnesses, the retention of symbols of power such as the halo, huqqa and sword that imply this was a ceremonial portrait. If so, by whom was it meant to be seen, and what was it meant to show? This lecture speculates on the possible meanings of this painting by placing it in the context of formal portraiture, erotological literature, music and poetry of Muhammad Shah’s time as well as the emperor’s own biography.


The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University

Lectures are free and open to the public.

They are held Thursdays, 5:30 – 6:30 p.m., at the Arthur M. Sackler Building, Room 318,

Harvard University, 485 Broadway, Cambridge MA 02138. 

For further information, call 617-495-2355 or email agakhan@fas.harvard.edu.

Contact Info: 
Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture
Harvard University
Sackler 412
485 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
Tel 617-495-2355
Contact Email: