Indian Miniature Paintings: The Mughal and Persian Schools

Academy of Fine Arts and Literature

The tradition of Indian Miniature Painting
The tradition of Indian miniature painting can be traced from the 9th-10th century in the Buddhist Pala period palm leaf manuscript of eastern India and in the western India in the Jaina palm leaf manuscript. With the introduction of paper in 12th century in India, illustrations on paper manuscript of larger format than the narrow palm leaf, began to come into vogue. But apart from such manuscripts still there were no schools of Miniature Paintings in India. There came into existence in the Lodi period (1451-1526 AD) a Sultanate bourgeois school of manuscript. The Sultanate illustrated manuscript represented the court style. The full flowering of miniature painting began when India came into direct contact with the civilization of Islam. With Mughal Empire, (1526-1757 AD) the studios were established at the Imperial court and Indian painting began a new phase in its evolution. It was from there that illustrated manuscripts, album miniatures, portraits, celebratory or genre scenes and various other paintings made their way allover India. Indian miniature painting was subjected to a strong initial Persian influence, but it was short lived since the Indian artists soon recovered their own independence and originality. 
The new patrons of paintings with the decline of the Mughal Empire were the provincial governors of Rajasthan and Pahari kingdom (c. 1700-1900 AD). Unlike Mughal artists, Rajput artists were anonymous and did not enjoy the high status of their Mughal counterparts. Thus while the stylistic evolution of the Mughal School is traced by the patronage of the respective emperors, geographical categories are used to explain the evolution of styles of Rajput painting. Miniatures were profoundly influenced by Indian literature and were executed as illustrations to texts or as individual paintings. They were small-scale, highly detailed pictorial compositions, often providing a true record of the social and cultural life of the time. As the Renaissance masters turned to the Bible, Indian painters turned to our epics, and saw as their task bringing these stories into visual reality for those who may not be able to read. They flourished only under generous and sensitive patrons.

Mughal Painting

Mughal painting emerged, developed and took shape during the period of Mughal Empire (16th - 19th centuries), exclusively as a court art and its development depended to a large extent on the patron and his enthusiasm. In 1526 Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty defeated the last Lodi Sultan, Ibrahim Lodi and established the Mughal Empire in India. Babur reigned only for a few short years. His son Humayun succeeded him in 1530 A.D. but within ten years Humayun lost his throne to the Afghan Sher Shah Suri, and became a refugee monarch at the court of Shah Tahmasp of Persia who had the brilliant atelier that ever existed in Iran. Humayun then came back and re-captured his throne, brought two great masters from that atelier-Mir Sayyid Ali and Abd us-Samad. These two great masters trained in the Persian court were responsible for establishing the first atelier of painting in India.

Akbar succeeded his father, Humayun in 1556 and laid the foundations of Mughal painting, a unique confluence of Persian, Indian and European art. The studios were established at the imperial court and workshops (Karkahnas) were set as collaborative enterprises comprising paper makers, calligraphers, illuminators, gilders, illustrators and binders, all supervised by a master. Some of the finest works were done in the reign of Akbar. Jahangir continued the tradition of painting and some fine manuscripts on flora and fauna are most popular of his time. Shah Jahan, his son and successor further patronized painting and artists produced works of great richness, finish and refinement, even when dealing with gory subjects such as the beheading of rebels. During Aurangzeb's period some fine portrait studies were made in the imperial studio.

A delicate fine drawing of the two women, one holding the wine flask and the other, a glass. One is standing with her arms on the other's shoulders. There is a marked reserved sensuousness about both of them.

The king with his entourage is out on a boar hunt. A sensitive and delicate work with sober palette and fine draughtsmanship captures a remarkable animation in the scene.

The king with his entourage is out on a boar hunt.

Aja-i-bal Makhluqat ("The wonders of creation"), a work of some unknown poet translated in Persian by Zakariya-i-din-Muhammad-al-Qazvini in 1283, is a book of mythical wonders conceiving grotesque forms blending different species. Here, multi-human-headed snakes are painted as conversing with each other. The artist has used a plain grey background to let these strange forms be in greater focus.

Here, multi-human-headed snakes are painted as conversing with each other.

The bath is over. Draped in a thin transparent sheet with golden border, not so much a device for covering her form as for discovering it and rendering it more enticing, the young damsel is wringing her hair drop by drop. Suddenly her attention is drawn to a pair of penetrating eyes full of greed surveying her beauty from across the window above and across the lone piece of textile that she is wearing. Dismayed she looks back. The appreciation of her beauty in those eyes conquers her and with colours of amour in them she fixes her eyes into those above. In facial features, expressiveness of eyes and modeling of body's upper part the painting is superb, though the anatomy of the lower, especially feet, part is not so perfect.

Draped in a thin transparent sheet with golden border, not so much a device for covering her form as for discovering it and rendering it more enticing,

Seated on a throne is a royal lady with folded legs, elucidating five women standing in a row. In the middle is a tree with leaves and heads of various creatures. On the top and bottom is the row with Persian inscription; the center occupies the painted area. The deep ink blue background is very unusual.

In the middle is a tree with leaves and heads of various creatures.

In Mughal paintings the horses and elephants are usually treated realistically but here the artist has not been successful in capturing the elephant in a natural form. The elephant seems to have cardboard like legs. The forelegs are lifted and two men, one carrying the ankush and the other trying to tighten the cord are in the process of subduing the elephant The painting seems to be incomplete as the background and figures are left unpainted. The line is sensitive.

The forelegs are lifted and two men, one carrying the ankush and the other trying to tighten the cord are in the process of subduing the elephant

The elegantly seated young woman clad in simple purple upper garment and printed white inner is a royal personage with spiritual leanings. The demeanour of her face and a golden halo around it speak of her enlightened stage. Subtle use of colours and lines makes the painting extremely delicate.

The demeanour of her face and a golden halo around it speak of her enlightened stage.

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