Indian Miniatures Painting
From time immemorial, Art has been an important part of everyday life in India – from the earliest rock cut carvings in the Bhaja or Ajanta caves to the vibrant modern street graffiti fantasising Bollywood heroes and heroines.
Indian Art is unique: an artistic melange created by wave after wave of invaders and religious philosophies - each vying to outdo its predecessor in vibrancy and eclecticism.
Art brings a visual vitality to Indian life. You only have to visit the vast Hindu Temples in Tamil Nadu to see these emotions in perpetual motion. The stunning gopurams of the Temples are a veritable frenzy of sculptures of God and Goddesses swirling with blinding colour and movement. Or visit Khajuraho to see the heights of erotic sensuality carved with incredible sensitivity – indeed the English, who ‘rediscovered’ the Temples (British Raj time) – were so outraged by the flagrant sexual depictions there were discussions about demolishing the remaining temples………. ! What a tragic loss that would have been to the world.
For contemporary art the galleries of Delhi and Mumbai are superb - the eye-catching, modern Indian work on display rivals that of any gallery in the world – however there’s no mistaking the amazing effervescence that has been the trademark of India for millennia.
A total contrast to this cacophony is the delightful art form of Miniature Painting, which developed to heights of sheer brilliance - in particular from the Jaipur school of Rajasthan. It’s a relief to the senses to view the wonderful little gems after being overwhelmed by the mainstream artistic eclecticism of India art. These paintings are, as the name indicates – small/miniature. Saying that the canvas can be vast – but the detail is always small – almost secretive – you have to sit and look intently to absorb every tiny detail to understand the picture.
This type of painting calls for the lightest of touch and the best of eye sight! When watching artists at work you wonder how they can possibly see what they are doing as the ‘paintbrush’ is usually a single hair from the tail of a squirrel (I am assured the squirrel is unharmed and let free after capture and the tail hair removed). Early work can be found on ivory, shells and palm leaves, indeed, some paintings are so small a magnifying glass is needed to see the detail. The essence and emphasis of these paintings is the intricacy and delicacy of the brushwork, each brush stroke should be absolutely perfect.
The pigment is still handmade from minerals, vegetables, precious stones, indigo, conch shells, pure gold and silver. Although for the tourist market, and to cut costs, synthetic pigments are sometimes used. If you are out hunting for miniatures in India be sure to find out which pigment is used, as the price should reflect the use of synthetics – but remember the time taken to paint the work of art would remain more or less the same. Also beware of ‘originals’ that come beautifully framed but are, in reality, pages torn from old illustrated books!
When creating such a piece of art, time becomes irrelevant. It was common place for a Grand Master to take years to complete the most involved and detailed of work, showing perhaps the victory in battle of his Maharajah, or a quiet moment beside a lily pond.
There are numerous ‘schools’ of miniature painting including:
- Pala School
- Orissa School
- Jain School
- Mughal School
- Rajasthani School
- Nepali School
Each has its own traditions – for example - the Mughal is more muted giving it clever shadow and depth, whilst the Rajasthani School goes for bright, bold colour, with an almost abstract air to the painting. The Jain school reflects style, the purity of colour and, an almost abstract use of detail – particularly the human form with elongated eyes and squarish hands. If you visit the wonderful Jain Temples of Ranakpur you can see the painted style subtly translated into the sheer beauty and delicacy of the carvings. I find, even when filled with tourists, the Temples are a haven of peace.
Quite often school styles overlap and in Jaipur (Rajasthan) for instance you find a blending of Rajasthani and Mughal influences.
Sadly, miniature work, like many forms of art, slowly fell from grace and became a dying skill. Luckily today, there has been a revival, as artists, once again, follow in the footsteps of their illustrious predecessors and create some of the world’s most beautiful pieces of art. Tourism, often lambasted for insensitivity to the environment , can for once be thanked, as visitors have also helped this ancient craft revive by buying these delightful mementoes.
Links: www.industours.co.uk will tailor-make a tour, or, you can one join one of their painting holidays.
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Debs RatcliffeExpereinced journaist with fortnightly food column with the Press & Journal in Scotland, monthly 'Boat Bites' copy in UK 'Sailing Today ' magazine. Regular contributor to numerous web sites including www.ceotraveler.com, www.romertraveler.com, the Maltese Sunday Times and 'I Do' magazine. Also writes holiday brochures for www.industours.co.uk,web copy for various companies including the latest - www.manoelislandyachtyard.com.
Located: Marsaskala Malta
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