A comparative study of a Mughal miniature and a European painting
Dolor, or melancholia, is its own separate, special and uncategorisable feeling. I once heard it described as ‘pleasure in sadness’, or a kind of yearning you can’t put into words, the Russian Тоска or perhaps the Portuguese saudade. I think of myself as normally sanguine, even at times choleric - yet I know the childhood move across continents left in me a deep rift, which my husband describes as potential melancholia. (An Eastern European, he’s used to what he describes as an underlying melancholy in his various cultures which he doesn’t share but does recognise.) I felt melancholia resurge during the pandemic lockdowns. It is not sadness, sorrow, depression, glumness, moodiness nor nostalgia. It is none of these things and yet there are tiny pinpricks of all of them in the grey-violet fabric of melancholy. It can also be a noble, beautiful sensation that heightens pleasure in art and an awareness of time passing.
The ancients divided humans into 4 humours: phlegmatic, sanguine, choleric and melancholic. I think these magical elemental correspondences with water, air, fire and earth still have something to offer to modern medicine since they take into account the whole person, one’s whole sensibility. Melancholia may be the most sensitive of the sensibilities and is an interior feeling, looking inwards, inside yourself and possibly inside your home, your room, your 4 walls - especially in January which is a peak month for wistful thinking (I should be in the Maldives, really!). They say you’re either a wall person or a window person, when it comes to cracking down to working in the studio.
We’ll replace the interior scene with a window. I leave you free to decide the scene outside the window - your melancholic can be looking out at a vista of your own choosing - perhaps as wistful wishful thinking, even a cure. I for instance would imagine a floating subtropical island in the distance; yours may be sunny green pastures or cornfields in sunset or a soothing jungle at night. Otherwise we’ll paint the whole painting and feel free to include whichever parts of the Mughal or the European that speak to you: my own personal preferences include the European hat and stick and the Mughal animals and tree. That tree is a brooding, heavy, cloud-like melancholic tree if there ever was one. It’s the ideal companion to the pensive seated figure and the image wouldn’t be the same without it.