Miniature Painting

Learning Goals:

  • Miniature paintings
  • Mughal influence
  • Kangra paintings

Miniature Painting: This was another tradition that developed in different ways. Miniatures are small-sized paintings that are generally done in water colour on cloth or paper. The earliest miniatures are found on palm leaf or wood. The regions that attracted miniature paintings are:

  • Western India: Some of the most beautiful miniatures are found in western India. These illustrated Jaina texts.
  • Himalayan foothills around the modern day Himachal Pradesh: This region had developed a bold and intense style of miniature painting called Basohli, by the late 17th century. Bhanudatta's Rasamanjari was the most popular text to be painted here.

The Mughal influence

The emperors Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan patronized highly skilled painters who primarily illustrated manuscripts containing historical records and poetry. These had the following features:

  • They were generally painted in brilliant colours.
  • They generally portrayed court scenes, scenes of battle or hunting, and other aspects of social life.

Many painters moved out to the courts of other emerging regional states with the decline of the Mughal empire. Hence the Mughal artistic tastes influenced the regional courts of the Deccan and the Rajput courts of Rajasthan. At the same time they developed and retained their distinctive features. Following the Mughal example, portraits of rulers and court scenes came to be painted. Apart from these, themes from mythology and poetry were depicted at centres such as: Mewar, Jodhpur, Bundi, Kota and Kishangarh.

A Rare Commodity

These paintings were often exchanged as gifts and were viewed only by an exclusive few which included the emperor and his close associates.

Impact of Nadir Shah's invasion

Nadir Shah's invasion and the conquest of Delhi in 1739 led to the migration of Mughal artists to the hills to escape the uncertainties of the plains. Here they found ready patrons. This led to the founding of the Kangra school of painting. The Kangra artists, by the mid-eighteenth century, developed a style which breathed a new spirit into miniature painting. They were greatly inspired by the Vaishnavite traditions. The distinguishing features of the Kangra painting were:

  • Soft colours including cool blues and greens
  • Lyrical treatment of themes

Even ordinary men and women painted. They painted on walls, pots, floors and cloth. These works of art have occasionally survived, unlike the carefully preserved miniatures which were preserved in palaces for centuries.

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