Kalarte Gallery: India

Rajasthani Miniature Paintings
on Paper and Silk

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These pictures are contemporary paintings, in water-based paint and ink on paper, done in Rajasthan, a desert state in the West of India. They are mostly copies of the style (and in at least a few cases, approximate copies of actual paintings) of Mughal paintings of the 17th century or of Pahari paintings of the 18th century. These were mostly courtly paintings. The former were done at the courts of the Islamic Mughal emperors in several of their capitals in north India (though not in Rajasthan), or in the courts of their tributary kings (some of which were in Rajasthan). The latter (i.e., Pahari or "hill country") were done for the Hindu courts in the hilly areas of northwest India (part of which is now Pakistan) after the disintegration of the Mughal empire, when the artists (many of whom were Hindu) left the Mughal capitals with the loss of artistic patronage and migrated to the smaller courts of the Hindu rajas.

Although they are not all necessarily "miniature," the historical paintings are so called because typically they served as illustrations in manuscripts. The subject matter is both secular and religious. The secular themes include meetings of royal or aristocratic lovers in court, lovers in the countryside, ladies with their attendants, and kings out hunting. The religious themes principally focus on incidents from the life of Sri Krishna.

The best of the historical paintings were very finely executed by the master painters in the royal workshops. They conveyed very subtle moods and feelings, as well as depicting actual events (for example, some paintings show the Mughal emperor receiving a delegation or Jesuit priests contending with Hindu and Moslem holy men at the emperor's weekly religious debates). They were intended to be enjoyed by connoisseurs, intimately examining them on lap or tabletop, rather than viewed by all in public places.

The paintings shown here are part of a modern tradition copying the historical styles. In some cases, the paintings are done on antique or old paper (most likely no older than the late 19th century). Often, there is Persian or Urdu calligraphy on the reverse of the paper, and occasionally calligraphy along the border of the picture. In recent years, these paintings have been executed on silk as well as paper, silk being considered by some artists as a more long-lasting surface medium.

 View pictures of paintings on paper from Rajasthan.
View pictures of paintings on silk from Rajasthan.

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