Portraiture in Indian Miniature Paintings

Sourabh Ghosh

Research Scholar, Chitkara Business School and Sr. Vice President, Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd., Chandigarh, India. E-mail: sourabhgh@yahoo.co.in

  Volume 2, Number 1, 2017 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/cjad.21.v2n103


The art of miniature painting in India traces its origin to the Buddhist manuscript Illustrations of the Pala period in Nepal and Eastern part of India in the 8th to 11th century. The Jain manuscripts in Gujrat and Rajasthan, as early as 11th century, also point towards a practice of such illustrations. These manuscripts, apart from portraying religious literature, also covered wide ranging topics such as medicine, astrology, etc. They were profusely illustrated, and were mostly inscribed on palm leaves. Apart from serving as important treatises, they were widely used as gifts during royal marriages and accessions. However, the Mughal Rule in India brought a certain degree of sophistication, refinement and finesse to this form of art. Under successive Mughal Rulers, the art of miniature painting reached its zenith. While Babur and Humayun, who were great lovers of art and literature, could not build proper ateliers during their reigns due to their frequent military campaigns and conflicts, they were responsible for bringing to India two versatile artists, Abdus Samad and Mir Sayed Ali from the Safavid Persian Court-whose works would have significant impact on the art of miniature paintings in the Mughal Courts. Humayun’s successors Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan built some of the most significant ateliers under their rules, and some of the preeminent miniature artists like Basavan, Manohar, Bichitar, Ustad Mansur, Balchand and Murad flourished under their patronage. Some very significant works like Baburnama, Akbarnama, Razamnama, etc. were also commissioned by the early Mughal Emperors.  With the decline of the Mughal Empire, the miniature painting scene shifted to the Rajput Courts in Rajasthan and the Hill States in Northern India. Various important Schools of painting –like the Mewar, Marwar, Jaipur, Hadoti, Kangra, Basholi, and Garhwal – Schools, to name a few, started flourishing under their respective rulers. While the Mughal influence still prevailed, yet each school had its own distinctive characteristic and feature. The subjects of these paintings and manuscripts ranged from religious literature, court scenes, royal processions, flora and fauna, textiles, jewelry to elaborate equestrian and hunting scenes. However, the most riveting and captivating depictions were in the form of elaborate and brilliant  portraits of the rulers, their nobles and courtiers, which not only throw light on their magnificent reigns, but also open a window to the culture, tradition and practices of those times. This essay makes an attempt to study the fine art of portraiture in miniature paintings in the various Mughal, Provincial and Rajput Courts to bring out their historical and cultural significance.

Key Words: Miniature Painting, Mughal School, Rajput School, Portraits, Hill Schools