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"The World in Miniature"

“The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail – Charles R Swindoll.”

Good things come in small packages – it’s true. In the vast world of art, lives a niche world, a miniature world which is truly amazing. What is impossible to believe sometimes, is that people create the smallest of works of art with so much patience and love? Results of these efforts have been breath-taking.

The word Miniature comes from the Latin word ‘miniare’ which means to color with red lead. The capital letters on the illustration were colored with red lead in the beginning. This was not a reference to the size of the painting – it only came to be assumed as such in the later medieval age.

The origins of Miniature paintings around the world begin with manuscripts/ scriptures. In the West, religious manuscripts were accompanied with detailed borders, initials and miniature illustrations used with gold and silver and bright colours –called Illuminated manuscripts. Miniatures are present in every culture simply because there were books/ manuscripts in every culture that needed to be illustrated for better understanding of the story by the reader. The size of the early medieval miniatures was large. The name for Miniatures only came to make sense in the 12th century when the size of parchments became smaller which really tested the skill of the artists.

Slowly, work was commissioned for these illustrations to be made specifically so that they could be carried on one’s person while travelling hence palm sized. Measurement of these miniatures is a technical topic with sizes specified for sculptures and paintings by different associations. But the rule of thumb states that the subject should be represented in drawing or sculpture in 1/6th of its actual size.

Artists working in miniature pursue a specialized art, unique and distinct among all others that entered the broad world of art as a new genre in the early 16th century.From the genre’s inception to the present day, miniatures have been integrally associated with specific techniques, diminished format and reduced scale. The history of miniature art traces its origins to multiple precedents which evolved into a new genre. This art form continues to adapt and transform with time forcing individuals attempting to encapsulate it by definition to do likewise to remain current. Despite the varied nuances in form there remain static guideposts that are essential to any attempt to define miniature art especially from the 16th century to the present day, and understanding the streams of development and the nuances of the genre’s evolution are imperative for grasping the basics of what constitutes a miniature.

Miniature painting around the world

Persian Miniature Art

Ottoman Miniatures / Persian Miniatures

In the Turkish or the Ottoman Empire, the arts flourished between the 13th and the 16th century and were given their due place. The miniatures began as illuminations accompanying texts for the emperor and his important ministers. The Ottoman Empire was influenced a lot by Sufism due to which artists drew realistically without any show of emotions on the subjects in the painting.

European Miniature Art

In the medieval period which began in the 5th century to the 15th-century art flourished. Influenced by the Roman art, medieval art was not restricted to one form or medium. Miniature art in Europe was a natural outcome of the Roman iconography or portrait tradition.

Miniature portraits

In the later medieval period, miniature portraits became popular. Made on vellum, copper, ivory, rings, necklaces, hair bracelets, ornamental boxes or snuff boxes – are now prized possessions of art collectors around the world.

Japanese Miniature Art

In Japan, the miniature art is not much about paintings as it is about carving an image- it can be a walnut kernel, a semi precious stone, bone, wood, porcelain and local variety of woods and corals. This art is called ‘Netsuke.’ These small pieces of buttons or toggles were made to be hung from the sashes of the kimono. These would help small pouches or boxes to be hung from them to store medicines and other valuables. This art form reached its zenith in the 18thcentury. Now, netsuke are collectible items.

Chinese Miniature Art

China was the source of artistic expression for the countries to its east. The history of Chinese art dates back to the Stone age (10,000 B.C.) period which dealt in pottery, cave art, landscape paintings, ceramics, textiles, and many more such types. The Chinese excelled in making large artworks (Magao cave art) to miniature ranging from lacquer plates, bowls boxes. Chinese art was predominantly under the patronage of the ruling or imperial families.

African Miniature Art

The African continent comprised of the world of various tribes, and a major civilization – the Egyptian civilization which built beautiful objects of arts and those that are marvels of the world till date. Tombs of Kings and officers have had sculptures and frescoes which are a sight to behold. Figurines depicting daily life – such as making beer, ploughing the field etc have been found in tombs.

History of Miniature Paintings in India

Miniature paintings originated in India around 750 A.D when the Palas ruled over the eastern part of India. Since religious teachings of the Buddha, accompanied by his images, were written on palm leaves, these paintings became popular. As these paintings were done on palm leaves, they had to be miniature in nature because of space constraint. Around 960 A.D, similar paintings were introduced in the western parts of India by the rulers of the Chalukya Dynasty. During this period, miniature paintings often portrayed religious themes. With the rise of the Mughal Empire, miniature paintings started growing on a level unknown before. Thanks to Akbar’s love for art, Indian miniature paintings combined elements of Persian style of painting, to give rise to the Mughal style of painting. These miniature paintings further evolved with the influence of European paintings in the Mughal court. Even after the decline of the Mughal Empire, miniature paintings and artists were patronized by the Rajput rulers of Rajasthan. Though influenced by the Mughal style of painting, the miniature paintings of Rajasthan had their own distinct features and often depicted the royal lifestyle and mythological stories of Lord Krishna and Radha. Most of these miniature paintings depicted the lifestyle of kings and queens and also narrated their tales of bravery. Some of these paintings were also created to showcase the contribution of various rulers towards their respective subjects and kingdoms.

Schools of Miniature Paintings in India

Beginning from the Pala style of miniature paintings, several schools of miniature paintings evolved in India over the course of several centuries. These schools were the products of the social, religious, economic and political atmosphere prevalent in different regions of India. Though these schools of miniature paintings were influenced by each other, they had their own distinct features as well. Some of the important schools of miniature paintings are mentioned below:

Pala School

The earliest Indian miniature paintings are related to the Pala School dating back to the 8th century A.D. This school of painting emphasized on the symbolic use of colors and the themes were often taken from the Buddhist tantric rituals. Images of Buddha and other deities were portrayed on palm leaves and were often displayed in Buddhist monasteries, such as Nalanda, Somapura Mahavihara, Odantapuri and Vikramasila.

Orissa School

The Orissa School of miniature painting came into existence during the 17th century A.D. Though the usage of paper was widespread in India during the 17th century, Orissa School of miniature paintings stuck to its tradition as it continued using palm leaves to display this intricate art form. Most of the paintings depicted the love stories of Radha and Krishna and also stories from ‘Krishna Leela’ and ‘Gita Govinda’.

Jain School

One of the earliest schools of miniature paintings in India, the Jain School of painting gained prominence in the 11th century A.D when religious texts like ‘Kalpa Sutra’ and ‘Kalkacharya Katha’ were portrayed in the form of miniature paintings.

Mughal School

The amalgamation of Indian paintings and Persian miniature paintings gave rise to the Mughal School of miniature painting. Interestingly, Persian miniature paintings were largely influenced by Chinese paintings. The Mughal style of painting flourished from 16th to 18th centuries, especially under the reign of Akbar.

Rajasthani School

The decline of the Mughal miniature paintings resulted in the rise of the Rajasthani School. Rajasthani School of painting can be further divided into various schools depending on the region they were created in. The Mewar School, Marwar School, Hadoti School, Dhundar School, Kangra and Kullu Schools of art are all part of Rajasthani School of painting. Like the Mughal Emperors, the Rajput rulers were also lovers of art and gave their patronage to miniature paintings.

Pahari School

Pahari School of miniature painting emerged in the 17th century A.D. These paintings originated in the kingdoms of North India, in the Himalayan region. Influenced by the Mughal School and the Rajasthani School of miniature paintings, the Pahari style of paintings flourished in the Jammu and Garhwal regions from 17th to 19th centuries.

Deccan School

The Deccan School of miniature painting flourished in places like Ahmednagar, Golconda, Tanjore, Hyderabad and Bijapur from 16th to 19th century A.D. The Deccan School of miniature painting was largely influenced by the rich traditions of the Deccan and the religious beliefs of Turkey, Persia and Iran. These paintings are different from that of their Mughal counterpart.

“The people, the seasons, the birds, the animals, the flora and fauna has all been an integral part of miniature paintings.
The world of miniature art is the voice of those artists, countries, emperors and kingdoms who made them. Through Miniature art one can hear stories and see different people and places.
Miniature painting is an art form that is very rich in history that continues today by artists from around the globe. The beautiful ornamental qualities of the miniature should be preserved whether it be the intricate large pieces, or intimate hand held works.”

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