6 Things to Know About Indian Miniatures

Discover details about these small but mighty artworks

By Google Arts & Culture

Radha and Krishna in the boat of love by Nihal ChandNational Museum - New Delhi

What are Indian miniatures?

Indian miniatures are small-scale, highly detailed paintings. They trace back to at least 9th century CE, and are a living tradition with many contemporary artists still pursuing the art form. Read on to discover why these mini but mighty artworks matter..

Folio Folio (early 12th century)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1. They've been around for longer than paper has existed

No paper? No problem! Paper was introduced in India in the 12th century but the miniature paintings trace back to at least the 9th century. They were painted on manuscripts made out of dried palm leaves or were painted on cloth.

Zulaykha bidding for Yusuf (Mid 18th Century) by UnknownNational Museum - New Delhi

2. The more color, the better

By the 12th century, free from restrictions of painting on palm leaf, Indian miniatures grew bigger in format. They began to include more intense colors and extensive border embellishments, with the influence of painting styles of Persia and Mamluks under the Ottomans. Miniature paintings began to break new ground in color with golds, silvers, and a new ultramarine blue from lapis lazuli.

Scenes of Music, Dance and Acrobatics (Mid 18th Century, Muhammad Shah Period) by UnknownNational Museum - New Delhi

3. Most artists who painted them remain anonymous

There are numerous miniatures styles from different periods and geographical areas that have influenced each other, with many artists trained in one style taking their art form to another location, altering or creating new styles. Miniature paintings have never been static.

The marriage ceremony of Rama and Sita (Early 18th Century) by UnknownNational Museum - New Delhi

4. Miniatures brought stories to life

Miniatures were heavily influenced by Indian literature and were often used as illustrations to texts, as well as individual paintings. Indian painters illustrated epics, fables and religious texts, visualizing these stories through art for those who might not be able to read.

Guru Nanak with Mardana in the House of Bhai Lalu (1825/1850)Academy of Fine Arts and Literature

5. They span centuries and cultures

From paintings of the Janamsakhis to illustrated biographies of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism; from Mughal empires to early-Modern India, miniature paintings have expressed and preserved the rich variety of Indian culture and history.

Lady Holding a Sparkler (Shah Jahan Period c. 1660) by UnknownNational Museum - New Delhi

6. They are examples of a rare and fine craft

The painters of these tiny, extraordinary works were craftspeople of the highest order. Often, brushes with only a single bristle would be used to pick out fine details, and the technique is very refined.

This portrait of a lady with a sparkler, for example, is only 9 centimetres wide, but look at the precision used to paint the patterns on her clothes, and the way in which her transparent peshwaz is painted, her brocaded pajama embroidered with dainty orange flowers is visible.

Swami Haridasa with Tansen and Akbar at Vrindavana (1700 AD - 1760 AD) by UnknownNational Museum - New Delhi

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