Miniature Paintings

With the introduction of paper in 12th century in India, illustrations on paper manuscript of larger format than the narrow palm leaf began to come into vogue.  The tradition of Indian miniature painting can be traced from the 9th-10th century in the Buddhist Pala period palm leaf manuscript of eastern India and in the western India in the Jaina palm leaf manuscript.

The full flowering of miniature painting began when India came into direct contact with the civilization of Islam. With Mughal Empire, (1526-1757 AD) the studios were established at the Imperial court and Indian painting began a new phase in its evolution. It was from there that illustrated manuscripts, album miniatures, portraits, celebratory or genre scenes and various other paintings made their way allover India. Indian miniature painting was subjected to a strong initial Persian influence, but it was short lived since the Indian artists soon recovered their own independence and originality.


  • The earliest examples of miniature painting in India exist in the form of illustrations to the religious texts on Buddhism executed under the Palas of the eastern India and the Jain texts executed in western India during the 11th-12th centuries A.D.
  • A large number of manuscripts on palm-leaf relating to the Buddhist themes were written and illustrated with the images of Buddhist deities at centres such as- Nalanda, Odantapuri,Vikramsila and Somarupa
  • Students and pilgrims from all over South-East Asia gathered there for education and religious instruction. They took back to their countries examples of Pala Buddhist art, in the form of bronzes and manuscripts which helped to carry the Pala style to Nepal, Tibet, Burma, Sri Lanka and Java etc.
  • The surviving examples of the Pala illustrated manuscripts mostly belong to the Vajrayana School of Buddhism.
  • Pala painting shows a naturalistic style and is characterised by sinuous lines and subdued tones of colour.
  • One of the finest examples is the manuscript of the Astasahasrika Prajnaparamitaor the perfection of Wisdom written in eight thousand lines, housed in Oxford, England.
  • The Pala art came to a sudden end after the destruction of the Buddhist monasteries at the hands of Muslim invaders in the first half of the 13th century. Some of the monks and artists escaped and fled to Nepal, which helped in reinforcing the existing art traditions there.
  • Colors were used in this form of painting which had symbolic meanings

Indian Paintings

Figure: An example of miniature painting from Pala School of art

  • The origin of the Mughal School of Painting is considered to be a landmark in the history of painting in India.
  • With the establishment of the Mughal empire, the Mughal School of painting originated in the reign of Akbar in 1560 CE who was keenly interested in the art of painting and architecture.
  • In the beginning of his rule a studio of painting was established under the supervision of two Persian masters, Mir Sayyed Ali and Abdul Samad Khan, who were originally employed by his father Humayun.
  • A large number of Indian artists from all over India were recruited to work under the Persian masters.
  • The Mughal style evolved as a result of a happy synthesis of the indigenous Indian style of painting and the Safavid school of Persian painting.
  • It is marked by supple naturalism based on close observation of nature and fine and delicate drawing and is primarily aristocratic and secular.
  • An illustrated manuscript of theTuti-nama in the Cleveland Museum of Art (USA) appears to be the first work of the Mughal School.
  • The style of painting in this manuscript shows the Mughal style in its formative stage. Shortly after that, between 1564-69 CE was completed a very ambitious project in the form of Hamza-namaillustrations on cloth, originally consisting of 1400 leaves in seventeen volumes.

Indian Paintings

Figure: A Hamza – nama illustration

  • Some of the famous painters in Akbar’s court other than the two Persian masters already mentioned are Dasvanth, Miskina, Nanha, Kanha, Basawan, Manohar, Doulat, Mansur, Kesu, Bhim Gujarati, etc.
  • Jahangir had great fascination for nature and took delight in the portraiture of birds, animals and flowers.
  • Some important manuscripts illustrated during his period are, an animal fable book called Ayar-i-Danish, the Anwar-i-sunavlianother fable book.
  • The famous painters of Jahangir are Aqa Riza, Abul Hasan, Mansur, Bishan Das, Manohar, Goverdhan, Balchand, Daulat, Mukhlis, Bhim and Inayat.
  • The portrait of Jahangir illustrated is a typical example of miniature executed during the period of Jahangir.

Indian Paintings

Figure: The Portrait of Jahangir

  • A series of the Razm-namadated 1616 CE, a series of the Rasikapriya (1610-1615) and a series of the Ramayana of circa 1610 CE are some other notable examples of the Mughal School.
  • Apart from portraiture, other paintings showing groups of ascetics and mystics and a number of illustrated manuscripts were also executed during his period; some noteworthy examples of such manuscripts are the Gulistanand the Bustan of Sadicopied for the emperor in the first and second years of his reign and the Shah Jahan Nama
  • Aurangzeb was a puritan and painting declined during his period and lost much of its earlier quality. A large number of court painters migrated to the provincial courts.
  • During the period of Bahadur Shah, there was a revival of the Mughal painting after the neglect shown by Aurangzeb.
  • After 1712 CE, the Mughal painting again started deteriorating under the later Mughals.