Miniature Paintings from South Asia

The long history of painting on the Indian subcontinent is dominated by two formats: the large-scale mural, which decorated the walls of temples and royal palaces, and the miniature, which illustrated the stories of both sacred and secular manuscripts. Each format played a fundamental role in the development of the visual culture of South Asia, and, because they are highly portable, manuscript paintings first brought the region’s artistic tradition to the world’s attention. The production of miniature paintings flourished during the Mughal Empire (1526–1858). Mughal artists were strongly influenced by Persian painting, and the style of miniature painting that eveloped and was refined at the Mughal court would later spread to other Indian royal courts. The narratives that were illustrated vary widely. Some paintings accompanied religious texts, as the written word is central to the various religions found in South Asia, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Jain, and Islam. A rich secular literary tradition—including tales of rulers, romances, and dramas—also contributed to the large output of illustrated texts. Dealers who handled these illustrated manuscripts often would unbind the books and sell the miniatures individually. Brightly colored and full of detail, Indian miniatures became highly sought works of art.