The cultural heritage of India is one of the richest and most ancient in the world, rivalled only by Chinese art. The art of sculpture, the most highly respected medium for artists, was widely practised throughout the subcontinent, and buildings were profusely adorned with it. The subject matter of Indian sculpture was almost invariably abstracted human forms that were portrayed to instruct people in the truths of the Hindu Buddhist or Jain religions. Painting in India typically concerned religious deities and kings and was influenced in style by Chinese painting as well as the art of Ancient Persia and other countries from middle and central Asia, as well as Greece. Painting in India encompasses Buddhist murals in the Ajanta caves and the Brihadisvara Temple, to the large frescoes of Ellora to the miniaturist tradition of Mughal, to the mixed-media embellished works from the Tanjore school. The paintings from Gandhar-Taxila are influenced by Persia to the west, while the eastern style of Indian painting – taking inspiration from Indian mythology, grew up around the Nalanda school of art. Indian civilization is also a rich source of architecture and architectural styles, one of its more minor examples being the famous Taj Mahal. Please Note: for important dates in the evolution of Asian culture, see: Chinese Art Timeline (18,000 BCE – present).
Origins of Art in India
The art of India begins way back in the Paleolithic culture of the Stone Age, with the famous Bhimbetka petroglyphs at the Auditorium Cave, Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh, as well as other petroglyphs at Daraki-Chattan, a narrow, deep rock shelter in the Indragarh Hill, near Tehsil Bhanpura, Madhya Pradesh.
These primitive cupules and instances of rock art have been dated to as far back as 290,000-700,000 BCE. (For other prehistoric artworks in the Far East, see also: Chinese Neolithic art.) Later, Buddhists were associated with many instances of cave art, which was imitated in the seventh century by Hindus at Badami, Aihole, Ellora, Salsette, Elephanta, Aurangabad and Mamallapuram. In addition, Buddhist literature is full of descriptions about late Iron Age royal palaces in India being decorated with a variety of religious art including frescoes and panel paintings but no such works have survived. The best early frescoes to have emerged are those from the Brihadisvara Temple at Chola, and the murals on temple walls in Pundarikapuram, Ettumanoor, Aymanam and Trivandrum.
Mughal painting is a miniaturist style of Indian painting, typically executed to illustrate texts and manuscripts. It emerged and flourished during the the Mughal Empire in the sixteenth-nineteenth centuries, coinciding with the upsurge in the art of illumination in Persia, which reached its heyday during the Safavid Dynasty (1501-1722). In fact, Mughal pictures were a blend of Indian and Islamic art. One of the key patrons of Mughal painting was Akbar (1556-1605). At Fatehpur Sikri, he employed the two Persian master painters Abdus Samad and Mir Sayyid Ali, and attracted artists from throughout India and Persia. They painted on cloth using vivid reds, blues and greens, as well more muted Persian colours of pink and peach.
Another type of miniature court-style art, Rajput painting flourished in particular during the eighteenth century, in the royal courts of Rajputana. Typically it depicts a variety of themes, including Krishna’s life, epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, as well as landscapes, and people. Colours used were usually extracted from minerals, plants, even conch shells. Brushes used by Rajput artists were typically very fine and tapered.
Noted for their elegance, subtle colours, and intricate detail, Mysore painting is an important form of classical art from Southern India. Mysore paintings portray Hindu Gods and Goddesses and scenes from Hindu mythology. The process of making a Mysore painting involves a preliminary sketch of the image which is then covered by a gesso paste made of Zinc oxide and Arabic gum to give a slightly raised effect. Afterwards a thin gold foil is pasted. The rest of the drawing is then pasted using watercolour.
An avant garde, nationalist movement which reacted against the dominant academic style of art in India as promoted by both Indian and British art schools, the Bengal School of Art was an influential style of painting that developed in India during the British Raj in the early twentieth century. Its influence waned with the spread of modernist ideas in the 1920s.