Miniature Painting style in India

An 18th-century Rajput painting by renowned miniature artist Nihal Chand


History of Miniature Painting in India

Miniature painting originated in India around 750 AD. C. when the Pala ruled the eastern part of India. Because the Buddha's religious teachings, accompanied by his images, were written on palm leaves, these paintings became popular. Because these paintings were made on palm leaves, they had to be miniaturized to save space. Around 960 BCSimilar paintings were introduced to western parts of India by rulers of the Chalukya dynasty. During this period, miniature paintings often depicted religious subjects. With the rise of the Mughal Empire, miniature paintings began to grow to previously unknown levels. Thanks to Akbar's love of art, Indian miniature paintings combined elements of the Persian painting style to produce the Mughal painting style. These miniature paintings continued to develop with the influence of European painting on the Mughal court.Even after the fall of the Mughal Empire, the Rajput rulers of Rajasthan encouraged miniature paintings and artists. Although influenced by the Mughal painting style, miniature paintings from Rajasthan had their own distinctive features, often depicting the royal lifestyle and mythological stories of Lord Krishna and Radha. Most of these miniature paintings showed the lifestyles of kings and queens and also told their stories of bravery. Some of these paintings were also created to show the contribution of different rulers to their respective subjects and kingdoms.

Mughal Miniature Painting

A Mughal miniature painting

Origin of Miniature Paintings

Beginning from the Pala style of miniature paintings, several style of miniature paintings evolved in India over the course of several centuries. These style were the products of the social, religious, economic and political atmosphere prevalent in different regions of India. Though these style of miniature paintings were influenced by each other, they had their own distinct features as well. Some of the important school of miniature paintings are mentioned below:

Pala School of Miniature Painting

The earliest Indian miniature paintings are related to the Pala Style dating back to the 8th century A.D. This style of painting emphasized on the symbolic use of colors and the themes were often taken from the Buddhist tantric rituals. Images of Buddha and other deities were portrayed on palm leaves and were often displayed in Buddhist monasteries, such as Nalanda, Somapura Mahavihara, Odantapuri and Vikramasila. These miniature paintings attracted thousands of students from far and wide. Thus, the art form spread across South-East Asia and soon, the Pala school of paintings became popular in places like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma, Tibet, etc. Apart from the emphasis on symbolic usage of colors, other prominent characteristics of the Pala style include the skillful and graceful usage of lines, and modeling forms by delicate and expressive variation of pressure, usage of natural colors, etc.

Female Incarnation of Buddha - Mamaki, from the Pala School, late 11th century.

Female Incarnation of Buddha - Mamaki, from the Pala School, late 11th century.

Orissa School of Miniature Painting

The Orissa School of miniature painting came into existence during the 17th century A.D. Though the usage of paper was widespread in India during the 17th century, Orissa school of miniature paintings stuck to its tradition as it continued using palm leaves to display this intricate art form. Most of the paintings depicted the love stories of Radha and Krishna and also stories from ‘Krishna Leela’ and ‘Gita Govinda’. These paintings were rich in color and often depicted the majestic landscape of the eastern parts of India. The strokes used were bold and often expressive.

Orrisa School of miniature painting

Orrisa Style of Miniature Painting

Jain School of Miniature Painting

One of the earliest styles of miniature paintings in India, the Jain School of painting gained prominence in the 11th century A.D when religious texts like ‘Kalpa Sutra’ and ‘Kalkacharya Katha’ were portrayed in the form of miniature paintings. Like other styles of miniature paintings, Jain Style displayed its artworks on palm leaves but started using paper in the late 12th century. Natural colors including gold and silver were used to depict the stories. Some of the exclusive features of these paintings include a portrayal of enlarged eyes, square-shaped hands, and a portrayal of stylish figures. Also, the colors used were often vibrant; more often than not, colors like green, red, gold and blue were used. The paintings often displayed male figures and goddesses of the Tirthankara. Also, the goddesses shown in the paintings were often heavily ornamented. These paintings began to decline during the late 16th century.

Miniature painting from a Kalpasutra manuscript, depicting Ganadhara Sudharma.

Miniature painting from a Kalpasutra manuscript, depicting Ganadhara Sudharma.

Mughal School of Miniature Painting

The amalgamation of Indian paintings and Persian miniature paintings gave rise to the Mughal School of miniature painting. Interestingly, Persian miniature paintings were largely influenced by Chinese paintings. The Mughal style of painting flourished from 16th to 18th centuries, especially under the reign of Akbar.

Scenes from the royal court, hunting expeditions, wild life and battles were often displayed through these paintings. Plants and trees were portrayed realistically and the paintings had rich frames that were decorated heavily. Such was the importance given to miniature painting by the Mughal Emperors that many famous artists were commissioned to come up with several pieces of art. The Mughal school of painting also inspired Hindu painters who came up with miniatures depicting stories from ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’. Since the Mughal rule saw various emperors, the style of miniature paintings differed with emperors. While Humayun and Jahangir encouraged paintings that portrayed events from their respective life, in Shah Jahan’s reign painters began giving importance to portraiture. Some of the well-known miniature artists of Shah Jahan's rule were Bichiter, Anup Chattar, Chaitaraman, Inayat, Mohammed Nadir of Samarquand and Makr. In addition to portaiture, many paintings of the period depict groups of ascetics and mystics and several illustrated manuscripts. Mughal miniature paintings started to decline with the reign of Aurangzeb as he is said to have condemned the practice of art, especially miniature paintings.

A miniature painting from the Padshahnama, depicting Shah Jahan receiving his sons during his accession ceremony in 1628

A miniature painting from the Padshahnama, depicting Shah Jahan receiving his sons during his accession ceremony in 1628

miniature painting of Jahangir with Abbas I of Persia.

Jahangir with Abbas I of Persia. With angels holding up the sun, this is a typical example of the influence of European Art in Mughal Miniature Paintings

Rajasthani School of Miniature Painting

Rājasthānī painting, the style of miniature painting that developed mainly in the independent Hindu states of Rājasthān in western India in the 16th–19th century. It evolved from Western Indian manuscript illustrations, though Mughal influence became evident in the later years of its development. The decline of the Mughal miniature paintings resulted in the rise of the Rajasthani School. Like the Mughal Emperors, the Rajput rulers were also lovers of art and gave their patronage to miniature paintings.

Rājasthānī painting differs from the Mughal painting of the imperial ateliers at Delhi and the provincial courts in its bolder use of colour, an abstract and conventionalized conception of the human figure, and an ornamental treatment of landscape. In keeping with the new wave of popular devotionalism within Hinduism, the subjects principally depicted are the legends of the Hindu cowherd god Krishna and his favourite companion, Rādhā. To a lesser extent there are illustrated scenes from the two major epics of India, the musical modes (rāgamālās), and the types of heroines (nāyikās). In the 18th century, court portraits, court scenes, and hunting scenes became increasingly common.

An 18th-century Rajput painting by renowned miniature artist Nihal Chand

An 18th-century Kishangarh School Rajput painting by renowned miniature artist Nihal Chand

Each Rajputana kingdom had its own distinct style with a few common features. Apart from depicting stories from the Ramayana and the royal lifestyle of kings and queens, Rajasthani miniature paintings often portrayed the legacy of present and past rulers. They also portrayed social values and the changes introduced by kings for the betterment of society. The background of the paintings formed a special feature of the Rajasthani school. Colors used were often bold and contrasting in nature. Natural colors, extracted from plants, minerals, shells, gold, silver and precious stones, were used. The preparation of colors itself would often take weeks and only fine brushes were used. The difficult art of miniature painting still exists in Rajasthan where the painters often use paper, ivory and silk as their canvas. However, natural colors are no longer used as they have been replaced by artificial colors.

Distinct schools have been separated out on the basis of style, such as Mewār painting, Būndi painting and that of its neighbouring sister state of Kotah, Kishangarh painting, Bīkaner, Jaipur, Mārwār, and, outside Rājasthān proper, Mālwa painting, also referred to as Central Indian painting.

Mewar Painting:

Mewār painting, one of the most important schools of Indian miniature painting of the 17th and 18th centuries. It is a school in the Rājasthanī style and was developed in the Hindu principality of Mewār (in Rājasthān state). The works of the school are characterized by simple bright colour and direct emotional appeal. The comparatively large number of paintings to which dates and places of origin can be ascribed make possible a more comprehensive picture of the development of painting in Mewār than in any other Rājasthanī school. The earliest-dated examples come from a rāgamālā (musical modes) series painted in 1605 at Chawand, an early capital of the state. This expressive and vigorous style continued with some variations through 1680, after which time Mughal influence became more apparent. One of the outstanding painters of the early phase was the artist Sāhibdīn.

The Mewār school continued through the 18th century and into the 19th, the production being fairly prolific. An increasing number of paintings were concerned with portraiture and the life of the ruler, though religious themes continued to be popular.

Mewar School of Miniature Painting

Mewar School of Miniature Painting

Bundi Painting:

Būndi painting, important school of the Rājasthanī style of Indian miniature painting that lasted from the 17th to the end of the 19th century in the princely state of Būndi and its neighbouring principality of Kotah (both in the present state of Rājasthān). The earliest examples (c. 1625) show Rājasthanī features, particularly in the depiction of men and women, but Mughal influence is exceptionally strong. In richness and brilliance Būndi painting has an affinity also with the painting of the Deccan, an area with which the rulers of Būndi and Kotah were often in contact.

The Būndi school is characterized by a fondness for lush vegetation, dramatic night skies, a distinctive way of depicting water by light swirls against a dark background, and vivid movement. The school reached its peak during the first half of the 18th century but continued to flourish into the 19th century and had a brilliant phase at Kotah during the reign of Rām Singh II (1828–66). These vigorous paintings depict royal tiger hunts in the thick and hilly jungle of the region and various aspects of the life of the king.

Bundi School of Miniature painting

Bundi School of Miniature painting

Kishangarh Painting:

Kishangarh, also spelled Kishengarh, city, central Rajasthan state, northwestern India. It is situated in an upland region about 50 miles (80 km) southwest of Jaipur on the banks of Lake Gundalao.

The city, with its fort and palace, was founded in 1611 by Kishan Singh, a Rajput (one of the warrior rulers of the historical region of Rajputana). It subsequently served as the capital of the princely state of Kishangarh. The princely state came under British dominance by a treaty concluded in 1818 and became part of the state of Rajasthan in 1948. The Kishangarh school of the Rajasthani painting style developed there in the 18th century.

Kishangarh is a trade centre for cotton fabrics and agricultural produce and is connected by road and rail with Ajmer and Jaipur. Soap, woolen carpets, and shawls are manufactured in the city. Hand-loom weaving, cloth dyeing, and precious-stone cutting are local cottage industries. Marble quarrying and cutting is also important to the local economy. The city’s public buildings include a hospital and a government college affiliated with the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur. Pop. (2001) 116,222; (2011) 154,886.

Krishna Celebrates Holi with Radha and the Gopis, ca. 1750-60 © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Krishna Celebrates Holi with Radha and the Gopis, ca. 1750-60. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Radha (Bani Thani), ca. 1750. By Nihal Chand.

Radha (Bani Thani), ca. 1750. By Nihal Chand.

Malwa Painting:

Mālwa painting, 17th-century school of Rājasthanī miniature painting centred largely in Mālwa and Bundelkhand (in modern Madhya Pradesh state); it is sometimes referred to as Central Indian painting on the basis of its geographical distribution. The school was conservative, and little development is seen from the earliest examples, such as the Rasikapriyā (a poem analyzing the love sentiment) series dated 1636 and the Amaru Śataka (a Sanskrit poem of the late 17th century), now in the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, Bombay. Little is known of the nature of the school in the 18th century.

Mālwa paintings show a fondness for rigorously flat compositions, black and chocolate-brown backgrounds, figures shown against a solid colour patch, and architecture painted in lively colour. The school’s most appealing features are a primitive charm and a simple childlike vision.

Krishna meets Radha, Malwa Painting style.

Krishna meets Radha, Malwa Painting style.

Pahari School of Miniature Painting

Pahari School of miniature painting emerged in the 17th century A.D. These paintings originated in the kingdoms of North India, in the Himalayan region. Influenced by the Mughal School and the Rajasthani School of miniature paintings, the Pahari style of paintings flourished in the Jammu and Garhwal regions from 17th to 19th centuries. The Pahari School of paintings gave rise to various other schools. Some of the most important schools of paintings under Pahari paintings are Guler School, Basohli School, Garhwal School, Chamba School and Kangra School. Each and every style of painting has its distinct features, but the portrayal of gods and goddesses is one of the most common features of the Pahari School of miniature painting. The scenic beauty of the Himalayas was also often depicted in these paintings. While usage of bold and contrasting colors shows the influence of Rajasthani School of miniature paintings, heavily decorated frames and borders exhibits the influence of the Mughal School.

Rama and Sita in the Forest, 1780, Kangra Style of Art

Rama and Sita in the Forest, 1780, Kangra Style of Art

Portrait of Raja Amrit Pal of Basohli, under whom the Basohli style of art flourished

Portrait of Raja Amrit Pal of Basohli, under whom the kangra style of art flourished

An illustration to the Bhagavata Purana: Durga’s warning given to Kamsa, Pahari style, c.1760–65.

An illustration to the Bhagavata Purana: Durga’s warning given to Kamsa, Pahari style, c.1760–65.

Basoli Style Painting

Basoli Style Painting

Deccan School of Miniature Painting

The Deccan School of miniature painting flourished in places like Ahmednagar, Golconda, Tanjore, Hyderabad and Bijapur from 16th to 19th century A.D. The Deccan School of miniature painting was largely influenced by the rich traditions of the Deccan and the religious beliefs of Turkey, Persia and Iran. These paintings are different from that of their Mughal counterpart. They often portrayed intense colors and sensuous looking female figures. The ladies were portrayed with beautiful faces, large eyes and broad foreheads. Also, symmetrical arrangement played a prominent role in the Deccan School of miniature painting. Even the miniatures that depict scenic beauty have a sense of symmetry attached to it. Instead of frequently portraying trees and plants, the artists from the Deccan School of painting chose to portray geometrically accurate buildings and other man made wonders. These paintings also display the usage of various strokes and depth, creating multi-dimensional effect. Bright colors like red and orange are some of the most important aspects of Deccan School of miniature painting.

Left: Golkonda Style: Raga Kakubha, c.1720; Right: Bijapur Style: Sultan Abdulla Qutb Shah, c.1940.

Left: Golkonda Style: Raga Kakubha, c.1720; Right: Bijapur Style: Sultan Abdulla Qutb Shah, c.1940.

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