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Indian Miniature Painting

Arts | 6-11 yrs | Interactive

History of Miniature Painting

Indian art created by the powerful ruling dynasties before the Mughal invasion focused heavily on sculpture and architecture. Buildings of large scale were either palatial or religious and the individual artist was largely ignored. By the 12th century there were only a few kingdoms that could afford the high costs of undertaking such large-scale projects and historians agree that Indian art saw a general decline. However, during this period Indian art was enriched by the illuminated manuscript and miniature painting.

A miniature painting is a simple decoration that accompanied text in a manuscript. A miniature painting should not be confused with a painting that is small. The tradition of miniature painting is illustrative in that it is a pictorial representation of the text beside it. This includes ornate capital letters at the beginning of a paragraph or elaborate borders that frame the page.

Miniature painting was not invented in India. The tradition of miniatures began as early as 400 AD in Italy and the Eastern Roman Empire. In India this style began around the 10th century in East India but developed as a full-blown art form during the Mughal rule. There were also other Hindu and Jain schools of art that employed this style.

Mughal Miniatures

There already existed a Muslim school of miniature painting in India during the medieval ages which the Mughals overthrew closer to the 16th century. Mughal miniature painting was a unique blend of Indian, Persian and Islamic styles. The illustrations of these manuscripts depicted the Mughal kings as hunters and conquerors, or engaging in ceremony.

It was Akbar the Great that established the Mughal School of miniature painting in his new capital Fatepur Sikri under the supervision of Persian master artists. Over a hundred painters from Gujarat, Gwalior and Kashmir were invited to be part of this new school of art and manuscript production.

Jain Miniatures

The Jain miniature style began much earlier than the Mughal school during the 7th century in the eastern states of Bengal and Orissa, and the western states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Gujrat. The movement grew steadily until it reached its peak during the medieval era. Artists from the Jain school would later move to the Mughal school of Akbar.

The manuscripts were made from chemically treated palm leaf and the pigments for the miniatures were mostly yellow and red. Jain miniatures have a distinct perspective, where the torso is drawn in frontal post and the faces are shown in side profile, with both eyes visible. The style uses folk elements like a stereotype expression and flat perspective along with intricate architectural spacing and interesting textile patterns.

The Guler School

In the 18th century, a school of miniature style painting called the Guler School developed in Himachal Pradesh. Guler painting was characterised by the romanticism of the myth of Krishna and Radha. Figures from this style, that later developed into the Pahari school, were painted with muted colours and graceful gestures.

The lack of patronage during the medieval era definitely affected the growth of art in India but did not diminish the creativity of the artist. The paintings may have been small in scale but their beauty is enormous.
Do it yourself
Do you keep a journal? If you do, in your next entry use one side of the journal to draw an image of the entry on the other side of the page. Frame the picture in a nice rectangle and decorate the edges to make it look like an entry in a manuscript.

In your next book report, write out the first letter of your opening paragraph really big. Be as artistic as you can and write the entire first paragraph to continue line for line from the edge of your bold art.

For more interesting and informative Arts articles, visit our Art for Kids category.