Indian Miniature Paintings: Origin, Styles and use in Home Decor
Art is like a mirror of the society. Art forms express the nuances of the culture of a place.
A few days back, my husband and I were on the Mahatma Gandhi Road in South Mumbai. While crossing the Chhatrapati Maharaj Vaastu Sangrahalaya, I saw an impressive head sculpture of resting Buddha at the museum lawn, which tempted us to enter through the gate of the museum. The beautiful work of art with the peaceful expression on the face of Buddha resting on a carpet of grass seemed like a perfect blending of heritage with nature. As my husband purchased the museum tickets, I clicked a few snaps of the sculpture.
On walking past the sculpture, we saw that a smaller statue of resting Buddha statue in the concavity at the back of the sculpture.
With only about an hour to see the exhibits before the museum would close down for the day, we decided to focus on one section and went to the Indian Miniature Paintings Gallery. As we explored it in detail, I discovered many things about miniature paintings that were earlier unknown to me.
In this post, I shall share what I learnt about Indian miniature paintings, particularly the Mughal and Rajasthani styles of miniature paintings.
Origin of miniature paintings in India
Eastern Indian and Western Indian Miniatures Painting Styles
Miniature paintings started as illustrations for sacred texts in the eastern and western parts of India. In eastern India, this art form flourished under the Pala Kings (750 A.D. to the middle of the 12th century) and was based on the religious theme of Buddhism. Buddhist religious texts were written on palm leaves and illustrated with images of Buddhist deities. The long and narrow shape of the palm leaf constrained the area available for painting. So, the illustrations were miniature in size.
In the Western part of India, miniature style of painting was based on the religious themes of Jainism. It was patronised by the Kings of the Chalukya Dynasty who ruled Gujarat and parts of Rajasthan and Malwa from 961 A.D. to the end of the 13th century.
When paper began to be used around the 14th century CE, the manuscripts were written on paper. Initially, the format of the text and illustration remained the same as that of palm leaf manuscripts but later, the dimension of the paper folio was increased.
Different Styles of Indian Miniature Paintings
Gradually, apart from these two schools, other styles and subject matter of the miniature paintings started emerging, of which some of the most prominent were the Sultanate style, Mughal style, Rajasthani and Central Indian style, Deccan Style and Pahari Style including Bhasoli, Kangra and Jammu styles of miniatures.
Let us explore the Mughal and Rajasthani styles of miniature paintings, which influenced and enhanced each other.
Mughal miniature paintings
Mughal style of painting evolved in the second half of the 16th century, during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar, who was a great connoisseur of art. He founded an atelier in which a hundred artists worked under two great Persian masters. The synthesis of the indigenous Indian style of paintings with the Persian school of paintings gave rise to the Mughal style of miniatures. It was characterised by trends such as the detailed depiction of nature, exquisite details of textile patterns, wall surfaces and tiles, and other decorative architectural elements, along with border decorations.
The Mughal style introduced realism to some extent and refinement in Indian miniature painting and it was further influenced by the European paintings which came in the Mughal court and absorbed some of the Western techniques like shading and perspective.
Some of these painting styles can be seen in the links below.
Rajasthani miniature paintings
With the decline of the Mughal Empire, the provincial governors of Rajasthan and Pahari kingdom emerged as the patrons of miniature paintings.
The Rajasthani style of painting is marked by bold drawing, strong and contrasting colours. Though the Mughal influence was obvious in the Rajasthani style of painting, the treatment of figures was flat without any attempt to show perspective in a naturalistic manner.
New schools of painting originated in Rajasthan and Central India in the 17th and 18th centuries. Several states of Rajasthan including Malwa, Mewar, Bundi- Kotah, AmberJaipur, Bikaner, Marwar, Nathdwara and Kishengarh developed their own styles of painting.
The Rajasthani style of miniature displays the royal lifestyles of the kings and queens, as well as themes related to Radha, Krishna and folktales or Ragamala, depicting musical modes. Each school of painting has its distinct facial type, costume, landscape and colour scheme.
The early Mewar paintings are characterised by lacquered red backgrounds and dark skies. A distinctive feature of the Mewar painting is a green bower against a red background. Miniature painting is a living tradition in Mewar even today. Nathdwara is known for its intricate Pichhwai paintings which portray Lord Krishna. Hunting themes were very popular in Kotah paintings. Kishangarh paintings are characterised by slim male and female figures with elongated features, long pointed nose and fish eyes. The depiction of Radha and Krishna in many of the Kishangarh paintings are said to be the stylized representation of poet- prince Savant Singh and his beloved ‘Bani Thani’.
Colours and Binders used for Indian Miniature Paintings
Colours used to make miniature paintings are made from pigments extracted from coloured earth, minerals or from leaves and flowers. These pigments are stored in powder form and mixed with gum Arabica, extracted from the bark of babul tree for applying on the surface, which acts as a binder for the colours. Brushes were made from the soft hair from the tail of camels, goats, cows or mongoose. today the traditional artists prefer to use such brushes, which they prepare themselves.
The tradition of miniature paintings still exists in some parts of India and these miniature paintings have found their way into our homes in the form of paintings and showpieces.
Also Read: Pattachitra: The spectacular art of Odisha
Use of Miniature paintings in Home Décor
Miniature painting done on marble by artisans of Rajasthan, make for attractive home décor items, adding vibrancy to the rooms with their bright colours. Miniature paintings are also available on round marble plates that can be kept on the for desk or table décor. Handmade marble elephants with miniature paintings all around look very artistic. Some miniature paintings are done on faux ivory (false or artificial ivory). Then miniature paintings fit very nicely on paperweights or on coffee mugs. I picked up a few paperweights and coffee mugs from the museum shop.
Also Read: Kantha: Traditional Craft from Bengal
You can see an online collection of the different types of handcrafted miniature paintings and art items, on Amazon. The pictures in the links below will take you to these Rajasthani and Mughal miniature art items on Amazon.
Incorporating these beautiful art items in our home décor is one of the ways to preserve our national heritage.
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