I’ve just arrived back from visiting the South of India where I was invited to attend a Hindu wedding. While I was there I had the opportunity to do some travelling and see some of the sights in the area. Apart from the amazing temples and backwaters, I was interested to learn about the history of Indian art from an Indian museum perspective. In the more Southern regions such as Thekkady and Madurai, I was treated to some of the local dance drama known as Kathakali, and when I arrived back in Bangalore I was also able to visit some of the municipal museums, including the Venkatappa Art Gallery and Museum.
Venkatappa Art Gallery and Museum
The Venkatappa Art Gallery and Museum was named after Karnataka’s first modern artist, Sri K. Venkatappa. First established in 1865, (as the Government Museum) the museum collection was initially developed from objects donated by the public. The collection slowly grew as more objects were excavated or purchased. After independence, the government was keen to develop their museums programme, and in 1966, created the modern art section of the collection, which now houses retrospectives of works by Venkatappa and Hebbar.
Separated into two buildings, the collection consisted of ethnographic and archaeological exhibits, alongside modern artworks. I was interested to see how the museum was organised and I liked the fact that the archeological objects were interspersed with paintings and images from the regions where they were found. This type of display seemed to afford the artworks with a social history or documentary function, giving additional context to the objects as well as animating the artworks themselves.
Upstairs and overlooking the archeological exhibits I discovered a miniature painting collection and found it useful to see each of the different miniature styles next to each other demonstrating regional differences, as well as the development of the genre over the centuries.
History of miniature painting
Although the museum only showed a small selection from each school of miniature painting from the 14th century onwards, the history of Indian miniatures actually dates back to the 11th century in the Buddhist texts of the Pala School, followed by the Jain School between the 12th and 16th centuries. By the 15th century, miniatures had begun to be influenced by the Persian style of painting, which could be seen through the style of dress and subjects depicted in the work, as well as in the use of new colours such as ultramarine blue and gold. These innovations were linked to the establishment of the Mughal Empire in the region.
Created as a primarily secular tradition, the Mughal School evolved from a mix of Indian, Persian (Safavid), and European styles of painting. Although other schools of painting were present alongside the Mughal style, over time they began to overlay their traditions over Mughal prototypes to produce a rich synthesis of secular and religious subject matter, materials and techniques. The schools which developed from the 16th century onwards included the Deccani, Rajasthani, Pahari and Orissa schools.
Techniques and materials
To train to produce the works, students would often be instructed at a traditional atelier. There they would study recognised compositions in order to become proficient. They would use a technique known as pouncing, which involved creating perforated drawings of the original using transparent vellum. After producing this, they would rub charcoal powder through the perforations onto the painting surface, to create a dotted outline to work from.
Paintings were generally created using the tempera technique. Pigments derived from plants and animals were mixed with water and a binding medium to produce paints. Blacks and whites were produced from burnt ivory and burnt conch shell, respectively. Reds were obtained from insects, lead and ochres, whereas yellows were extracted from cow urine among other sources. Indigo and ultramarine completed the palette, which was then sufficient to mix the other colours required.
Originally, miniature paintings were produced on palm leaves, vellum or cloth. However, around the 14th century, paper slowly began to be introduced to India through its Islamic rulers. As in India, countries in the Arab world had also previously used vellum as a writing surface. However, in the eighth century, techniques in paper making were introduced by Chinese prisoners of war, and began to replace papyrus for common use.
By the 11th century paper had replaced vellum across Turkey, Egypt and Persia, as a more versatile and inexpensive medium for miniature painting and calligraphy. These findings reflect the history of paper discussed in week 48 and 49, with Spain continuing the spread of paper to the Americas through its connections with China and Arab trade routes.