INDIAN MINIATURES : Schools of Paintings

Radha, Krishna and sakhis playing Holi.
Lucknow, Avadh (Oudh), 19th century. 
Opaque watercolour and gold on paper

If you have not heard much about the art of painting practised by the ancient, medieval and subsequent Indian artists, you are not in minority. 

Most of the budding artists and art lovers believe that the art of painting is what the European artists have painted since the renaissance. And under the glow of these master artists, the art of those who lived on the other pieces of Earth have been ignored.

But the modern art-lovers have found interest in the forgotten regions, too. Indian Painting and the various schools of painting that flourished in India is one of these new-found attractions of the art-lovers. The most charming aspect of Indian art is miniature painting. 

Miniature Paintings style had flourished in India. It was essentially an art revolving around the courts of rulers, getting sponsorship especially from the Mughal Emperors and the Rajput Kings. Miniature art carried with it the artistic influence of past cultures, too. Materials were no problem. Artists acquired everything locally.

The schools of Miniature Paintings operating in India can be indexed as below.  

 Mughal Miniature

 Rajasthan Paintings

 Kangra painting

 Phad Painting

 Ragamala Painting

 Basohli Painting

 Deccan Miniature

 Tanjore painting

The miniature artists depicted their art on paper, ivory articles, wooden furniture, leather and marble. Surfaces, no bar. They used even hand-made cloth and walls as their canvases, conveying reality beyond a specific vantage point, employing multiple perspectives.

Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India - The emperor Jahangir celebrating the Festival of Holi with the ladies of the zenana - Google Art Project
The emperor Jahangir celebrating the Festival of Holi
with the ladies of the zenana 
Miniature, opaque, gold
watercolour,  National Gallery of Australia Canberra

Mughal Miniature: Mughal Miniature art is a pioneer in India, so far as the art of miniature painting is concerned. The Mughal Emperors, despite they were followers of Islam, had kept the art of painting secular. Look at this miniature. In this painting, Emperor Jahangir is shown as participating in a Hindu religious festival of Holi. He is shown as enjoying the whole of his family and friends.

The Mughal Emperors were patrons of art. When they reduced their assistance to the painting art, the artists moved to the other regions of India. This resulted in a different style of schools of painting, including the miniature form of art.  Here are some important schools of paintings that flourished in India from the period of the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. These paintings depict the history of Indian culture and people's lifestyle during the medieval period. 

The Mughal Art in India can be broadly divided into four phases. The Mughals - descendants of Timur and Genghiz Khan felt strong cultural ties to the Persian world. So they had imported the strong elements of the Persian paintings into Indian culture. Thus the first phase of the Mughal Miniatures in India, which started during the rule of the first Mughal Emperor Babur, had a strong resemblance with the Persian miniatures.

Philadelphia Museum of Art  Painting 1750
Opaque watercolour and gold on cotton
Philadelphia Museum of Art 

RAJASTHAN PAINTINGS:   The various kings and princes of Rajputana were known for their love for music and paintings. They sponsored the miniature style of paintings. Initially, this style of painting came from Persia. The Mughal Emperors helped it to grow. But once the rule of the Mughal empire weakened, they had stopped assisting the artists.  

In the northern part of India, a new sect (Sampradaya) of the Hindu religion had become more popular. It is called Vaishnavism. With the spread of Vaishnavism, in the early Eighteenth Century, the Gita Govinda came to be regarded as a popular pictorial theme in various art centres. These centres were the regions of Rajasthan and Gujarat. During this period, the Poems of Gita Govinda were extensively illustrated in the Rajasthani school of painting and Pahari Painting. Other illustrators also followed this style. 

The patrons of the local artists were the Rajput kings and prices. So the style of the paintings was named Rajaputana painting or Rajasthan painting.  The Hindu Rajput kings encouraged the artists to depict Scenes of the Epics of the Hindu religion. Ramayan and Mahabharat were the main epics. However, the paintings depicting Lord Krishna were getting more attention from the artists.

The union of Lord Krishna and his divine lover Radha were worshipped as deities. So these divine pair became the main subjects for the artists. The Radha is believed to be the Earthly realm. Lord Krishna is the divine element. Though Radha was a shepherd woman, in miniature paintings, she is painted as wearing decorative robes and precious jewellery.

A Lady Luring a Bird  Kangra Painting
Colour and Gold on Paper 
Rijksmuseum

Kangra painting:  This school of painting is pictorial art of the people living in the region of Himachal Pradesh, situated in the northern part of India. There are several subregions of the area which have developed their particular styles of painting. Collectively these paintings are known as the Pahari (mountain) style of Paintings. 

This area of the northern part of the Himalayan mountain range is well-known for its beauty in the Himalayan mountains. With the help of erstwhile princely states, the painting style of Kangra flourished in the years of the mid-eighteenth century. This style of painting was patronised by the Rajput rulers of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. 

In this painting, a lady, standing on a terrace, is holding a cup in her hand. She tries to lure the bird and cage it.  The colours used are red, orange, yellow. Black stripes are also visible.

PHAD PAINTING:   Phad painting is a popular style of folk painting. The painting under this style is done on a piece of cloth. This is one of the painting styles practised in northern India since ancient time. Thematically these paintings are a depiction of deities and their stories, including the legends of rulers of Rajasthan.

Ragamala Painting:  In the Ragamala series of paintings, it remains a humble endeavour to explore the beauty of the ragas and how these melodious beauties are embedded in the colours of those paintings which are based on each raga. The subject of Lord Krishna and Radha, his lover was favourite amongst the Ragamala painters. The artists of medieval India had skilfully used musical details as their subject for paintings. Ragamala paintings are one of these attempts. Under this nomenclature, Ragmala, the medieval painters depicted the ragas (Tunes of Music) and their musical characters in their paintings. This is a unique attempt to depict the art of music in paintings.

Bahsoli painting of Maharaja Sital Dev of
Mankot in Devotion, Ink, opaque watercolour,
and silver on paper.
Unknown author

Basohli Painting:  Basohli or Basholi style of Painting is also from the Himalayan range of mountains. Pahari Paintings, Kangra. Painting Mythology: these are the elements this style of the painting depicts. In this style of painting the faces of the characters are specially painted, in a typical style. The subjects always remain the Deities and Lord Krishna. itis also believed that unlike other styles of miniature paintings, the Basholi paintings were done before the Mughal rule started in India. In addition to the religious subjects, these artists painted the events and life of their patron kings. This style was in a way unconventional. The colours the used were primary, but they used bolder colours to emphasise their objects and subjects.

Deccan Miniature:  This school of painting that had flourished in the southern region of India was tagged as the Deccan School of Miniature painting. These artists generally lived in the cities of Ahmadnagar, Bijapur, Golconda, and Aurangabad. On seeing their work we can arrive at a conclusion that these painters were influenced by the style of the painters of Persian and Turkish style. However, they had tried to synthesize foreign styles with indigenous traditions. That had resulted in a charming tradition. We can see that the themes look like trademarks of the Deccan School of paintings.

Tanjore painting:   Thanjavur or Tanjore paintings are art that is as old as the fifteenth and seventeenth century. It was the art of the people of south India living around the City of Thanjavur, a city in the Southern part of India. The language Tamil, spoken mainly in the present-day Tamilnadu state of India, and the art of Tamil culture occupy a major chunk of detail in the history of the civilization of India. Likewise, in Eastern India, the school of Kalighat Painting is also popular among ordinary people and art lovers. [All the images are in Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons]

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