Miniature Paintings

Miniature Paintings

Historical views and stances, socio-political and economic systems are best captured through visual documentations. Out of different genres of visual art, miniature paintings illustrate the above mentioned elements and render us knowledge about our own history in one of the finest ways.

The term miniature is derived from the Latin word minimum, and is generally related to an ancient or medieval illuminated manuscript. Various traditions of miniature paintings include:

1. Western Traditions
2. Byzantine Traditions and
3. Asian Traditions, which in turn comprises mainly of
(a) Persian Tradition and
(b) Indian tradition

Indian miniature paintings comprise various schools of miniatures through its vibrant historical time and space, its cultural and regional specificities.


How does an Indian Miniature Painting look like?

Indian miniature paintings are one of the best examples of handmade forms of visual art in India drawn on palm leaves in the earlier period and on normal paper in the later. Even after their significant small size, they are noted for their minute detailing and careful brushstrokes. The colors which are used are extracted from natural resources like vegetables, fruits, flowers, indigo, minerals, precious and semi-precious stones, shells and even gold and silver. As a recurrent theme, the Indian miniatures mostly value the religious and literary elements, including the Ragas and the Rasas as representations of various emotions and moods of the mythical characters of the Indian culture. They also include the manuscript paintings of the early Indian texts and epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Puranas, Rasikpriya, Gita Govindam and may such texts. As parts of ancient and medieval manuscripts, their sizes vary from two to four inches to twenty five inches in length.


History of Indian Miniature Painting

Although it is not possible to give a confirmed time period of the development of the Indian miniature painting, it is suggested by the scholars that these art forms have evolved in the Eastern part of India, roughly during the 11th century A.D. and continued to flourish till the 17th century A.D. The earliest instance of Indian miniature painting is found during the Pala dynasty on the themes of Buddhist teachings and their philosophy.


Different Schools of Indian Miniature Painting

Different schools of Indian miniature painting reflect the cultural and religious diversities of the different regions of India over a period of time. The different Indian miniature painting schools popularly found in the country are:

  1. The Pala School of Miniature Painting

  2. The Western Indian School of Miniature Painting

  3. The Mughal School of Miniature Painting

  4. The Deccan School of Miniature Painting

  5. The Central Indian and Rajasthan School of Miniature Painting

  6. The Pahari Schools of Miniature Painting

  7. The Orissa School of Miniature Painting


The Pala School of Miniature Painting (11th to 12th centuries)

History of the Pala Miniature Painting

The earliest examples of the Indian miniature painting can be found under the Pala dynasty in the Eastern parts of India during the 11th to 12th centuries A.D. They come in the shape of paintings and illustrations on Buddhism in the east. Miniature paintings done on the dry palm leaves on Buddhist teachings were found in the Buddhist monasteries (also known as Mahaviharas) in Nalanda, Odantapuri, Vikramsila and Somarupa. Most of the Pala miniature paintings and illustrations found till now belong to the Vajrayana School of Buddhism. This school of miniature met its end at the hands of the Muslim invasion of India in the 13th century A.D. Most of the Buddhist artists and monks made their way to Nepal where it is believed that they revived this form of art giving impetus to its natural artistic evolution.

Form of the Pala Miniature Painting

The Pala miniatures are characterized by their natural style, restrained use of colors, winding stroke – reminiscent of the bronze and stone sculptures and those of the Ajantas. Some of the notable examples are the Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita, or the perfection of Wisdom written in eight thousand lines.


The Western Indian School of Miniature Painting (12th - 16th centuries)

History of the Western Indian Miniature Painting

The miniatures of the Western Indian school had its patronage under the Chalukya kings who ruled large parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Malwa from 961 A.D. till the later part of the 13th century. Like the Pala school who spread Buddhism through their work, these miniature paintings illustrated the Jain teachings, their philosophies and certain aspects of the then social imperatives.

Form of the Western Indian Miniature Painting

Certain physical aspects of the human body in these paintings were exaggerated with vibrant and vigorous colors, angular features. And thoughtful use of vacant spaces. Examples of this school of miniature worth mentioning are the popular Jain texts like the Kalpasutra, and Kalakacharya-Katha.


The Mughal School of Miniature Painting (1560-1800 A.D.)

History of the Mughal School of Miniature Painting

The genesis of the Mughal miniature painting is thought to be one of the pivotal points of visual history of India. A flamboyant and impressive fusion of the Indian style and the Safavid style of the Persian school gave birth to the Mughal school of miniature painting. This form took its concrete shape especially under the patronage of Akbar from 1560 A.D. who appointed hundreds of Indian artists spearheaded by two popular Persian masters called Mir Sayyed Ali and Abdul Samad Khan. After its aesthetic height during the reign of Jahangir, it gradually declined during the reign of the much puritan emperor Aurangzeb before its final death during the British rule in India.

Form of the Mughal School of Miniature Painting

Naturalism, influenced by close observation of nature, forms the basis of such miniatures. Its aesthetic evolution can be best delineated through its stages of artistic development – from Tuti-nama, now kept in the Cleveland Museum of Art (considered to be one of the first works) to the much refined cloth illustrations of Hamza-nama. Hamza-nama is the best example of the grand aesthetic fusion of the age, as one can observe the images of the Indo-Persian architecture, Deccan style of trees and Rajasthani style of feminine figures. Shadow works and hints of Renaissance perspective painting under the influence of the European school of painting was prominent in the Mughal miniature paintings.

It is under the patronage of Jahangir that the Mughal miniatures attained its zenith through refined and charismatic use of animal figures and nature. One of the best examples of this period is that of Jahangir’s portrait, where he is seen to hold a picture of Virgin Mary in his right hand. This period draws strong influence to the realistic representations and superior modeling of the European paintings. It is also worth mentioning that this school of Indian miniature painting reverted to the secular representations – a series of miniatures of Ramayana were drawn during the early part of the 17th century.


The Deccan School of Miniature Painting

History of the Deccan School of Miniature Painting

The Deccan school of miniature painting maintained its independent existence through its unique style, marking a grand difference from that of its more dominant Mughal counterpart. It continued to create miniatures through its main centers at

  1. Ahmednagar

  2. Bijapur

  3. Golconda

  4. Hyderabad and

  5. Tanjore

Form of the Deccan School of Miniature Painting

Rich color scheme with figures of women, men and animals mark a distinct taste in the Deccan school of miniatures.


The Central Indian and Rajasthan School of Miniature Painting

History of the Central Indian and Rajasthan School of Miniature Painting

These miniatures mark a notable difference from the Mughal school on the basis of its choice of secular subjects – Ramayana, Mahabharata, the Puranas and other Hindu texts and scriptures form the basis of this school. Rooted into the indigenous culture, these miniatures included love poems from Sanskrit culture and other major Indian languages and folklores.

The Rajasthani style of Indian miniature paintings include:

  1. The Malwa style

  2. The Mewar style

  3. The Bundi style

  4. The Kotah style

  5. The Amber-Jaipur style

  6. The Marwar style

  7. The Bikaner style

  8. The Kishangarh style

Form of the Central Indian and Rajasthan School of Miniature Painting

Themed with contrasting and sharp colors, these miniatures lack the influence of the perspective. With a more or less two-dimensional representation, these paintings are usually divided into several compartments to show different depths of field.


The Pahari School of Miniature Painting

History of the Pahari School of Miniature Painting

The Pahari miniature school includes the states of Jammu, Himachal, Kashmir, parts of Punjab and Garhwal. The various styles include:

  1. Basohli

  2. Guler

  3. Kangra

  4. Kulu-Mandi

Form of the Pahari School of Miniature Painting

With strong and vivacious scheme of colors, these paintings adhere to the recurrent themes of the myth of Krishna and the songs of Gita Govindam by the devotional poet Jayadeva.


The Orissa School of Miniature Painting

History of the Orissa School of Miniature Painting

Only a few instances of miniature paintings have been found under this school. The exhibits of this style appear to belong to 17th century, and it is quite striking to find that the use of palm leaves was in vogue till as late as the 19th century. The series of paintings found are mostly about the celebrated theme of Lord Krishna his leelas with the Gopinis, Radha and Gita Govindam.

Form of the Orissa School of Miniature Painting

Its richness in terms of color and its stylization of the human figures and trees become a key feature of this miniature painting. A series of illustrations from Gita Govindam painted in the circa 1800 A.D. showing the two mythological lovers, Radha and Krishna with the backdrop of a tree reflect the specificity of the region and its indigenous form.

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