One tradition, many lives: The Indian miniature
A vast subject of study that encompasses artworks across time and culture in the Subcontinent, Indian miniature painting as a tradition includes small-scale paintings and manuscript illustrations as well. The word ‘miniature’ finds its origins in the Latin ‘miniare’ meaning ‘to colour’. Miniature paintings was born here during the literary boom of Buddhism and Jainism between the 9th and 12th centuries. The 3-inch palm leaf manuscripts were minuscule and intricate, especially when compared to the large-scale wall paintings that preceded them. In the 15th century, when paper was introduced in India and became the medium for manuscripts, indigenous painting styles reached the height of their development and the size of the paintings became irrelevant. An entire century later, a fusion of Persian and indigenous art styles emerged and reached new heights under Mughal patronage. These were even further away from palm leaf manuscripts.
What, then, is a miniature painting if it isn’t defined by size or style?
- Indian miniatures are flat or lack perspective in their visual grammar. The foreground, middle ground and background all appear equally important to the viewer. Even when the wide-eyed figures of the 9th century evolved to naturalism under Jehangir, the miniature lacked realism.
- Miniatures can be defined as narrative paintings. Like most indigenous art, miniatures portrayed a scene or story to the viewer. Hunting scenes, court scenes and mythology were some of the most recognisable themes in Indian miniatures.
- The process behind the art was as significant, if not more so, than the iconography. Preparation of colours was crucial; colours were created by hand using organic, earth and mineral pigments.
- Indian miniatures are decorative and include fine details in costume, architecture, patterns and shadows created by flora and fauna.
This exhibition focuses on the numerous identities of the art form and how it morphs and contemporises itself time and again, branching into different schools and themes. Even today, 12 centuries later, miniatures only seem to acquire more space both nationally and internationally, in the practices of modern and contemporary artists.