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Strange and Wondrous: Prints of India from the Robert J. Del Bontà Collection

History of a print

Fifty years after the publication of Tavernier’s print, the engraver Bernard Picart used it as a source for his luxurious double-page engraving titled in French “Diverses Pagodes et Penitences des Faquirs” (Various Temples and Penances of the Fakirs). (Learn more about Picart’s engraving.) This image opened the second volume of his 1723 publication Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses des peuples idolatres (Ceremonies and religious customs of the idolatrous peoples), published in Amsterdam in 1728, which was part of a multivolume series on all world religions.

Picart’s engraving borrows Tavernier’s compositional format, such as the banyan tree enveloping a scene of three temples, devotees, and ascetics. However, Picart made key changes to update the print with newly acquired information.

Detail: “Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde” Robert J. Del Bontà collection, E442

A new figure, a Jain ascetic, appears in the central foreground “with his nose & mouth muffled up, lest he should swallow the smallest Insect in drawing his breath. He likewise sweeps the ground before him as he walks lest he should tread upon any worm or other Insect.”

Notice that a man is now peeking into the rectangular box, which might have housed an ascetic. This likely relates to a 1679 edition of the Tavernier print, seen here in a 1713 copy that incorporates a kneeling man as well as two Europeans. Picart either purposely excluded these figures from his version or he had not seen the later version of Tavernier’s print.

Four Illustrations of Ascetics Robert J. Del Bontà collection, E404

Picart added other figures, such as these two female devotees, likely adapted from an Indian painting of two female devotees visiting a female ascetic under a tree. Picart copied the entire painting, which was in the collection of the Italian Conte Abate Giovanni Antonio Baldini (1654–1725), in his first volume of Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses.

Here Picart illustrates what Tavernier was only able to describe in writing. A woman kneels and kisses a fakir’s genitalia while he stands with hands together in prayer, his long hair cascading down his back. Tavernier wrote: “True it is, that I have hid those parts which modesty will not suffer to be expos’d to view. But they both in City and Countrey go all as naked as they come out of their Mothers wombs; and though the Women approach them to take them by the fingers-ends, and to kiss those parts which modesty forbids to name; yet shall you not observe in them any motion of sensuality; rather quite contrary, offering them never to look upon any person, but rowling their eyes in a most frightful manner, you would believe them in an extasie.”

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