Miniature Paintings In Medieval India - Informative & researched article on Miniature Paintings In Medieval India
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Home > Art & Culture > Indian Paintings > Indian Painting > Miniature Paintings In Medieval India
Miniature Paintings In Medieval India
Miniature Paintings in Medieval India demonstrate the influences of different Emperors and schools of art and culture.
 The miniature paintings in medieval India ushered in by the rise of Islam to political supremacy in India and can be divided into two broad movements. One of these exemplifies an attempt to preserve past traditions with almost superstitious persistence. These traditions, though often emptied of meaning, retained at least the trappings of outer form which, in more propitious times, were again to quicken with life.

The old and the new, the ‘foreign’ and the ‘indigenous’, had gradually to come to terms with each other; and this process, in which the individual qualities of each were enhanced and brought to a new fulfillment, resulted in some of medieval Indian miniature painting’s greatest achievements. A mode of development in which fresh stimulus is received, reinterpreted, and transformed is hardly new to Indian art and can be seen at almost every great epoch in its history.

Miniature Paintings In Medieval IndiaPersian influences in artistic development were gradually assimilated by the Indian painters, a process that is of profound importance in the creation of the Mughal dynasty, and to a much lesser extent of the Rajasthani style in the sixteenth century. The national style of the period was the western Indian style, found in one version or another over almost all of India. Surviving examples indicate that the greatest concentration was in Gujarat and that the main patronage was provided by the Jains. The style of the medieval Indian miniature painting was emphatically linear, the forms flat, with sharp angular contours, the faces generally in profile but with both eyes shown, one of them protruding into empty space. The colours are few, red, green, blue, yellow, and black predominating, a monochrome patch of red often constituting the background.

The most persistent feature of the medieval Indian miniature paintings are very brilliantly represented and preserved at Ajanta, and is the result of a progressive simplification, abstraction, and linearization, the various stages of which are clearly demonstrable. Though not immune to stylistic change, the western Indian style was nevertheless remarkably conservative, adhering closely to set formulae right up to the end of the sixteenth century, around which time it gives way under the pressure of rising new schools. Though the conservative character of the western Indian style is generally accepted, it has nevertheless to be realized that around the middle of the fifteenth century the style does begin to show signs of real change. Paintings illustrating this change are rare, but are clearly represented in three fine illustrated manuscripts, the Kalpasutra painted at Mandu in 1439, a Kala-kacharya-katha of about the same date and provenance, and the Kalpasutra produced at Jaunpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh dated A.D. 1465. The line flows more smoothly, the forms are fuller, and the figures begin to lose their hieratic, effigy-like character. It should be obvious that these manuscripts herald the birth of a new style, and that this new style did come into being and was flourishing by at least the early years of the sixteenth century is confirmed by the discovery of an illustrated manuscript of the Aranyaka Parvan of the Mahabharata dated A.D. 1516 and of a Mahapurana manuscript dated A.D. 1540. The promise of this new style is carried to fulfillment in the splendid Bhagavata Purana.

The first half of the sixteenth century, as far as the medieval Indian miniature painting is concerned, was a time of fervent activity. At this time Indo-Persian styles are found to exist, patronised presumably by Muslim courtly circles; a western Indian style and new styles developing from it which have not yet been named but are represented by the group of manuscripts. In the history of India, the culture of medieval Indian miniature painting attained huge patronisation. Under the general supervision of some artists of Mughal Empire and the discerning enthusiasm of Akbar, a vigorous atelier of painters drawn from all parts of the Indian Empire grew up at the imperial court. With the development of medieval Indian miniature painting under the patronage of Mughal emperors, the trends of Mughals were included in the style and texture of paintings. The Mughal painters, most of whom were Hindus, had a subject close to their hearts, and they rose to great heights, revealing an endlessly inventive imagination and great resourcefulness in illustrating the myths.

The medieval Indian miniature painting of Jahangir’s reign (A.D. 1605-1627) departs markedly from the style of the Akbar period. The great ‘darbar’ pictures, thronged with courtiers and retainers, are essentially an agglomeration of a large number of portraits. The compositions of these paintings are also much more restrained, being calm and formal. The colours are subdued and harmonious, as is the movement, and the exquisitely detailed brushwork is a wonder to behold. A large number of studies of birds and animals were also produced for the Emperor, who was passionately interested in natural life, and who never ceased to observe, describe, measure, and record the things rare and curious with which the natural world abounds.

To Jahangir, painting is the favourite art; he prides himself on his connoisseurship, and greatly honours his favourite painters. Some of the painters of medieval era, mainly of the Mughal era like Abul Hasan, Ustad Mansur and Bishandas are the most appraised personae for their lively and artistic representation of paintings. Even Shah Jahan was also a keen connoisseur of painting, and during his time the Jahangiri traditions continued in a modified way. The compositions become static and symmetrical, the colour heavier, the texture and ornament more sumptuous. The freshness of drawing, the alert and sensitive observation of people and things, was overlaid by a weary maturity, resulting not in the representation of living beings but in effigies with masked countenances. The availability of several portraits of Shah Jahan and the grandees of the court again demonstrate the movement towards richness and luxury at the expense of life.

Miniature Paintings In Medieval IndiaDuring the reign of Aurangzeb (A.D. 1658-1707) patronage seems increasingly to shift away from the court; works which can be identified as products of the imperial atelier are extremely few and continue the style of Shah Jahan. The fairly large number of paintings assigned to the reign of Aurangzeb were probably executed for patrons other than the Emperor. This led to an inevitable decline, for Mughal painting was essentially a carefully nurtured court art, and its removal from the natural habitat resulted to its insolvency and debasement. There was a brief revival during the reign of Muhammad Shah (A.D. 1719-1748), but the rapid disintegration of the Mughal Empire sealed the fate of the arts which were intimately associated with it. Artists dispersed to the various provincial centres where the great nobles were establishing kingdoms of their own. Later on occasion, the new environment induced a brief spasm of life. The decay, however, was irreversible, and was reinforced by the change in taste, progressively corrupted by ill-understood Western influences. Thus when the Mughal style finally passed into oblivion it was natural for it to be replaced by the so-called Company School, catering specifically to the patronage of the British ruling class in India and to the Indian gentry whose traditional tastes had been already subverted.

The Rajasthani style of Indian miniature painting, spread mainly over the various states of Rajasthan and adjacent areas. The subject-matter here is essentially Hindu, its primary concern the Krishna myth, which was the central element in the rapid expansion of devotional cults at this time. The style, in marked contrast to the naturalistic preferences of Mughal painting, remains abstract and hieratic, and its language, though mystical and symbolic, must have immediately evoked a sympathetic response in the heart of the Hindu viewer. Though the Mughal and the Rajasthani styles were operating on different levels of reference, some contact between them is clearly evidenced by shared conventions and formulae. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the most part the Rajasthani schools were essentially unaffected by the Mughal.

The Rajasthani style of Indian miniature painting developed several distinct schools, their boundaries seemingly coinciding with the various states of Rajasthan, notably Mewar, Bundi, Kotah, Marwar, Kishangarh, Jaipur (Amber), Bikaner and yet others whose outlines are slowly beginning to emerge. During the seventeenth century, The School of Mewar was considered as the most important among the other schools, producing pictures of considerable power and emotional intensity. The fervour of the early years began to subside towards the close of the seventeenth century, and eighteenth-century paintings, though often full of charm, never capture the earlier mood. The School of Bundi, sharing slightly more with the Mughal School than does the School of Mewar, came into being about the end of the sixteenth century. The medieval Indian miniature painting of this school was distinguished by a more refined line and a love for vivid, rhythmic movement which survives well into the eighteenth and even the nineteenth century in the spectacular scenes of sport and hunt painted in the neighbouring state of Kotah. The vitality of many Rajasthani schools was really quite remarkable, even in the nineteenth century, when the Mughal style had collapsed and shifting patronage under Western influence made survival difficult.

The themes of Bikaner miniature painting are the same as other Rajasthani schools. The delicacy of line and colour are strong Mughal features which first become evident in painting of the mid-seventeenth century executed by artists imported from Delhi, and these features are retained to some extent even when the school begins to conform more closely to the neighbouring schools of Rajasthan. Of these, the School of Marvvar is of primary importance, and though its history in the seventeenth century. It produced works of exceptional quality in the eighteenth century, all characterized by strong, almost dazzling colour, and by a direct, unhesitating statement. The School of Kishangarh, filled with lyrical mysticism, is one of great charm and finesse, owing much to Mughal technique of the eighteenth century. It is, however, much more consciously stylized, and, in its best works, quite transcends the inane secularism of the late Mughal style from which it was derived. The state of Jaipur, known as Amber in the seventeenth century, had attained a position of great wealth and influence because of its close alliance with the Mughal power. A rather formal and mannered style is evident during the eighteenth century, and some exceptionally fine paintings were done toward its closing years when there was a brilliant phase during the reign of Savai Pratap Singh (A.D. 1718-1803).

Miniature Paintings In Medieval IndiaThe Pahari style is yet another important school of miniature painting, so called because of its prevalence in the former principalities of the Himalayan foot-hills, stretching roughly from Jammu to Garhwal. Two broad phases have been distinguished. The, earliest Pahari paintings are marked by bold colour, vigorous drawing, and what can be called a primitive and intense expression, analogous to the mood of some early Rajasthani painting of the first half of the seventeenth century, though the Pahari examples are later in date and executed on a much more sophisticated and accomplished level. The themes are Hindu, and shared in common with Rajasthani painting. The name most commonly used for this kind of work is the ‘Basohli’ style, after a state of that name, but paintings in a similar idiom are found in other hill states also. The later phase of the Pahari style that comes into its own about the third quarter of the eighteenth century is similarly called the ‘Kangra’ style after a state of that name, though it too is found in other hill centres. Considerable confusion thus exists with regard to the nomenclature, and an orderly classification suited to the nature of the material would considerably help understanding. The ‘Kangra’ style, however, stands in somewhat marked contrast to the ‘Basohli’ School, being characterized by a sentimental and lyrical mood, smooth rhythms carried by curving lines, and cool and refreshing colour. The reasons for this dramatic change in the mood of Pahari painting are probably to be sought in a strong incursion of the later Mughal style of the plains. But these influences were once again radically transformed in the course of assimilation with which Indian art is hardly unfamiliar. The Pahari style also lasted on into the nineteenth century, sharing in the general decline and not quite displaying the tenacity of some of the contemporary schools of Rajasthan.

The Deccani style of miniature painting again germinates as a combination of foreign (Persian and Turkish) and strongly indigenous elements inherited seemingly through the artistic traditions of the Vijayanagara Empire. This style was more poetic in mood, though similar in technique to the Mughal School. The various kingdoms of the Deccan plateau evolved idioms with their own distinctive flavour from the middle of the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Of these, the Bijapur version, particularly under the patroivage of the remarkable Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1580-1627) was marked by a most poetic quality. Important work was also done in the powerful sultanates of Golconda and Ahmednagar. Contemporary with the Mughal School, the Deccani styles were in close contact with it, and their development too followed a parallel course. In the eighteenth century, Hyderabad, the capital of the Asaf Jahi Dynasty, became a very vigorous centre of painting, a large volume of work similar in mood to the output of provincial Mughal centres being produced there.

The history of Indian miniature painting from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century is filled with many riches and the information found supply only the faintest indications of its wealth. The Mughal School had been studied for the longest time, so that it is more or less well known. As far as Rajasthani painting is concerned, most of the material has come to light only during the last twenty years or so. The broad currents are becoming clear but the details remain obscure, and fresh discoveries make constant reappraisal necessary. Many difficulties remain in the understanding of the Pahari style, though its obvious beauty and charm evoke an immediate response. This is applied to the various schools of the Deccan. Lacking the monumentality of architecture, it is nevertheless of the greatest vitality and richness, and, on a more intimate level, as precious an expression of artistic skill.

(Last Updated on : 24/05/2013)
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