Miniature Paintings – UPSC Notes – Art and Culture

Miniature paintings are exquisite handcrafted pieces of art, characterized by their vibrant colors and intricate details. Despite their small size, these paintings showcase elaborate and delicate brushwork that defines their unique identity. The colors used in miniatures are carefully handmade, often sourced from pure gold, silver, minerals, plants, precious stones, indigo, and conch shells.

Historical Roots of Miniature Paintings in India

The term ‘miniature’ originates from the Latin word ‘Minimum,’ signifying red lead paint utilized in illuminated manuscripts during the Renaissance period. Despite potential confusion with ‘minimum,’ suggesting small size, the Indian subcontinent boasts rich traditions of intricate miniature paintings with diverse schools showcasing variations in composition and perspective.

The genesis of Indian miniature paintings dates back to the 17th century in the Western Himalayas, gaining significant influence from mural paintings during the latter half of the 18th century. Notably, the sponsorship of miniature painting flourished under the patronage of the Hindu Rajas of Rajasthan and the Muslim kings of the Deccan and Malwa during the Mughal era.

This artistic tradition also absorbed influences from Persian traditions, introduced to Indian miniature paintings by the Mughals. The evolution of these small yet detailed artworks reflects a fusion of cultural influences, creating a unique and captivating facet of India’s artistic heritage.

Features of Miniature Paintings in India

Miniatures are meticulously crafted paintings that exhibit a charming appearance. Despite their diminutive size, these paintings burst with vibrancy.

The most noteworthy aspect of miniatures lies in their intricate and delicate brushwork, which imparts a distinctive identity to each piece. These paintings employ hand-mixed colors, with pure gold, silver, minerals, plants, precious stones, indigo, and conch shells being common sources.

  • Certain prerequisites govern the creation of miniature paintings.
  • The artwork should not exceed 25 square inches in size, and the subject must be portrayed at a scale no larger than 1/6th of its actual size.
  • In the majority of Indian miniature paintings, human figurines are depicted with a side profile, featuring bulging eyes, a sharp nose, and a slender waist.
  • Rajasthani miniatures often portray characters with dark skin, while Mughal paintings tend to depict paler tones.
  • Celestial entities, such as Lord Krishna, are typically depicted in a distinctive blue hue.
  • Female figures are characterized by long black hair, and both their eyes and hair are almost invariably black.
  • Men, on the other hand, typically dress in traditional attire and wear turbans on their heads.

Early Miniature Paintings

  • Frequently painted on perishable materials such as paper, palm leaves, and fabric, primarily for books or albums.
  • Emerged between the 8th and 12th centuries as a reaction to massive wall paintings.
  • Found in both the eastern and western parts of the country.
  • Two well-known schools of early miniature painting:
    • Pala School of Art
    • Apabhramsa School of Art

Miniature Paintings – Pala School of Art

  • Flourished during the years 750-1150 AD.
  • Paintings executed on palm leaf or vellum paper, often part of manuscripts.
  • Primarily used by Buddhist monks, restricted to materials like banana or coconut tree leaves due to nonviolence principles.
  • Background imagery characterized by sinuous lines and subtle tones.
  • Paintings often feature lonely single characters, with group compositions relatively uncommon.
  • Patronized by kings supporting Buddhism, appreciating simplicity in compositions.
  • Utilized and supported by followers of the Vajrayana school of Buddhism.
Miniature Paintings - Pala School of Art

Miniature Paintings – Apabhramsa School of Art

  • Originated in Gujarat and the Mewar region of Rajasthan.
  • Most popular painting style in western India during the 11th to 15th centuries.
  • Initially, Jain religion was the predominant motif, later adopted by the Vaishnava School.
  • Introduced the concepts of Gita Govinda and secular love, departing from the earlier dominance of Jain imagery.
  • Early Jain period saw paintings on palm leaf, later transitioned to paper.
  • Despite being created as book illustrations, lacked a distinct style and resembled mural paintings at a smaller scale.
  • Colors used were mainly red, yellow, and ochre with symbolic value.
  • Bright and gold colors employed in the final stages.
Miniature Paintings - Apabhramsa School of Art

Miniature Paintings – Deccan

  • Colors applied flat, with garments and human figures outlined in black.
  • Faces viewed from a three-quarter angle, imparting a detached look.
  • Landscapes filled with trees, rocks, and designs that do not mimic the subject’s natural aspect.

Miniature Paintings – Delhi Sultanate

  • Attempted to combine Persian motifs from ancestors with Indian traditional components
  • Preference for pictorial manuscripts.
  • Notable example: Nimatnama (a book) written under the reign of Nasir Shah, ruler of Mandu, showcasing the blending of indigenous and Persian styles.
  • Popular style: Lodi Khuladar, practiced in many Sultanate-controlled districts between Delhi and Jaunpur.
Miniature Paintings - Delhi Sultanate

Miniature Paintings – Mughal Era

  • Distinctive style influenced by Persian antecedents.
  • Changes in color palette, motifs, and forms.
  • Shifted emphasis from representing gods to glorifying and depicting the ruler’s life.
  • Concentration on depicting hunting scenes, historical events, and other court-related subjects.
  • Mughal paintings combined the realistic style of Persia with the grandeur of a vast empire, resulting in stunningly illustrated folios.
  • Unique due to the use of obvious bright colors.
  • Emphasis on accurate line drawings.
  • Wide-ranging topics, including religious art.
  • Despite being miniature, Mughal paintings are considered among the most distinctive in the world.
Miniature Painting - Mughal Era

Early Mughal Painters

  • After wars, Babur founded the Mughal dynasty.
  • Commissioned family tree illustrations from Persian artist Bihzad.
  • Humayun, an arts patron, ascended the throne at a young age.
  • Enjoyed painting and monument construction.
  • Atelier disrupted after losing the throne to Sher Shah Suri; exiled to Persia.
  • In Persia, hired painters Abdus Samad and Mir Sayyid Ali.
  • Stayed with him upon regaining the throne, introducing Persian influences into Mughal paintings.
  • Created successful illustrated albums.
  • Crafted an illustrated manuscript, Tutinama, during Akbar’s reign.

Akbar’s Contribution to Art

  • Akbar established a dedicated department for painting and paperwork.
  • Founded Tasvir Khana, a professional artistic studio where artists were paid to develop their styles.
  • Viewed painting as both a means of study and recreation.
  • Believed paintings could convey a subject’s demeanor and rewarded lifelike images.
  • Distinguishing features in Akbar’s paintings include the use of three-dimensional figures and continued foreshortening.
  • Encouraged the incorporation of calligraphy in paintings.
  • Marked shift from popular art to court art during this period, focusing on scenes of court life.
  • Prominent painters of the era include Daswant, Basawan, and Kesu.
  • Notable illustrated manuscripts during Akbar’s reign include Tutinama, Hamzanama, Anvar-i-Suhaili, and Gulistan of Sadi.
Miniature Paintings - Tutinama

Jahangir’s Artistic Reign

  • Mughal paintings reached their zenith under Jahangir’s reign.
  • Jahangir, a naturalist, had a profound love for paintings of flora and fauna, including birds, animals, trees, and flowers.
  • Emphasized the importance of naturalism in portrait painting.
  • Distinctive trend: Use of decorated margins around paintings, sometimes as elaborate as the paintings themselves.
  • Talented artist with his private workshop, although no major works by him have survived.
  • Atelier focused on producing miniature paintings, notably naturalistic depictions of the zebra, turkey, and cock.
  • Ustad Mansoor, a master in drawing complex faces, was one of the era’s renowned artists.
  • Illustrated an animal fable called Ayar-i-Danish (Touchstone of Knowledge) during his reign.
Miniature Paintings - Jahangir

Shah Jahan’s Artistic Shift

  • Dramatic shift in the tone of Mughal art during Shah Jahan’s reign.
  • Unlike his father and grandfather, who favored naturalistic images, Shah Jahan was inclined towards incorporating artificial elements into paintings.
  • Legend suggests an attempt to reduce the vitality of paintings, introducing an unnatural stillness influenced by European art.
  • Altered drawing and painting techniques, discouraging the use of charcoal and promoting the use of pencils for drawing and sketching.
  • Directed the use of more gold and silver in paintings.
  • Preferred brighter color palettes compared to his predecessors.
  • Resulted in an expansion of the Mughal atelier during his reign, marked by significant changes in style and technique.

Miniature Paintings – Rajput Style

  • The most significant periods for Rajput-style miniature paintings were the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • Initially based on mural and fresco forms before gaining popularity in the later century as a tiny painting style.
  • Primarily religious or devotional.
  • Incorporates Hindu symbols like the lotus, peacock, and swan.

Miniature Paintings – South India

  • Well-established practice of creating miniature paintings in the South Indian states during the early medieval period.
  • Distinct from northern Indian schools due to regional climate influences.
  • Characterized by the abundant use of gold in the paintings.
  • Focuses more on drawing celestial creatures than on depicting rulers.
  • Notable schools include:
    • Tanjore painting
    • Mysore painting

Tanjore Painting

  • Thanjavur or Tanjore School is known for its unique decorative painting style.
  • Patronized by Maratha rulers during the 18th century.
  • Distinct in using glass and board instead of traditional cloth and vellum used in northern India.
  • Notable for bright color patterns and abundant use of gold leaf, making them one-of-a-kind.
  • Employed gemstones and cut glasses as ornaments to create larger-than-life images.
  • The majority of paintings depict Krishna smiling in various stances, highlighting significant events in his life.
  • Attained its pinnacle under the patronage of Sarfoji Maharaj, a prominent arts supporter.
Miniature Paintings - Tanjore Painting

Mysore Painting

  • Patronized by the rulers of Mysore province, extending into the British period.
  • Key motif: Representation of Hindu gods and goddesses.
  • Unique aspect: Each painting contains two or more people, with one being larger and more colorful than the others.
  • Technique distinct from north Indian styles, utilizing ‘gesso paste’ – a mixture of zinc oxide and Arabic gum.
  • ‘Gesso paste’ provides a distinct foundation, producing a gloss over the backdrop in these paintings.
Miniature Paintings - Mysore Paintings

Miniature Paintings – Exquisite Handcrafted Art

  • Fine-looking, handcrafted works of art, characterized by brightness and vividness despite their small size.
  • Elaborate and delicate brushwork is the defining feature, providing each painting with its individual identity.
  • Colors for miniatures are meticulously made by hand, utilizing pure gold, silver, minerals, plants, valuable stones, indigo, and conch shells.
  • Significant motif: The Ragas play a crucial role in Indian miniature paintings.
  • Various miniature painting schools exist in the country, including the Deccan, Rajput, and Mughal schools.

Related Posts

Pre Historic Painting
Mural Paintings
Cave Paintings

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FAQs on Miniature Paintings

  1. What is miniature painting in the context of UPSC?
    • Miniature painting in the UPSC context refers to the traditional art form of creating small-scale paintings, often used for illustrating manuscripts and books. It has historical significance in Indian art.
  2. Who introduced miniature painting in India according to UPSC history?
    • According to UPSC history, miniature painting was first introduced in India by the Palas of Bengal between the 9th and 10th centuries.
  3. What are the main features of miniature painting as per UPSC syllabus?
    • The main features of miniature painting in the UPSC syllabus include intricate and delicate brushwork, small size (not exceeding 25 square inches), and historical significance in the illustration of manuscripts and books.
  4. Can you provide examples of famous Indian miniature paintings relevant to UPSC studies?
    • Some notable examples of Indian miniature paintings relevant to UPSC studies include:
      • Female Incarnation of Buddha – Mamaki, from the Pala School, late 11th century.
      • Miniature painting from a Kalpasutra manuscript, depicting Ganadhara Sudharma.
      • A miniature painting from the Padshahnama, depicting Shah Jahan receiving his sons during his accession ceremony in 1628.

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