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The Chronicles of Kishangarh Miniature Paintings

Kishangarh Miniature Paintings

The beauty of art lies in its diversity. And when it comes to Indian Art, there is no dearth of different styles and themes. There are several art forms, including paintings from across the country that stand out because of their unique characteristics and sheer brilliance. One such art or form of painting is the Kishangarh Miniature Paintings.

The Kishangarh Miniature paintings originated in the state of Kishangarh, Rajasthan, and flourished during the 18th century. This school of painting has its own distinctive style, history, and story of evolution.

History of Kishangarh Miniature Paintings

Under the patronage of King Savant Singh (1748 – 57), the school of Kishangarh Miniature painting took form and shape. Savant Singh was an artist and poet himself. He wrote with the pen name Nagari Das and was a stout follower of the Vallabhacharya sect who worshipped Lord Krishna.

Savant Singh fell in love with Bani Thani (Lady of Fashion). According to some sources, her real name might have been Vishnupriya and she was a singer in the King’s court. Both were creative, aesthetic artists and devoted to Bhakti and Krishna. Unsurprisingly, soon their love became legendary.

But it was artist Nihal Chand who immortalized their love story through his paintings and mastery of the brush and strokes. Sawant Singh induced the idea of a Krishna-Radha series to Nihal Chand. And hence, the two lovers became the real faces of the Kishangarh paintings.

Additionally, Savant Singh was an accomplished poet himself. He encouraged Nihal Chand to paint and give expressions to his many poems and artistic works, including the depiction of his poem ‘Boat of Love.’ This painting is today on display at the National Museum in Delhi.

The King gave up his throne in the later years and with Bani Thani went to Vrindavan. They both lived their last years in peace and meditation. Today both their tombs are found alongside each other in Vrindavan.

Bani Thani

The portrait of Bani Thani, known by the same name, is often considered Nihal Chand’s masterpiece. But it is believed that Sawant Singh made a rough sketch of the iconic painting before handing it over to Nihal Singh. This painting is also often referred to as India’s Mona Lisa. It embodies feminine grace, subtlety, and charm. And its popularity and importance were also acknowledged when it was featured almost 200 years later on the postage stamp in 1973 by the Government of India.

Style And Theme

The Kishangarh Miniature paintings are also known as Rajput paintings. Their distinguishing characteristics are the precision with which the individual features of men and women are painted. The facial expressions and features are delicate, graceful, and sensitive. The painted characters have elongated faces with pointed chins and noses. Their beautifully curved almond-shaped eyes have long eyelashes and their hair is usually serpentine. The women figures are slim and tall, whereas, males have their chest pushed out or are seen wearing Kishangarh turbans on their heads.

Both Bhakti and Shringar were the cornerstones of the Kishangarh paintings. The main theme was, however, focused on the love story of Radha- Krishna. And both Krishna and Radha were inspired by the real-life couple – King Savant Singh and Bani Thani. The intricate love-stricken expressions and romantic nuances in the painting are a reflection of the passion between the King and his mistress. The magnificent series of Krishna-Radha painted by Nihal Chand marks the hallmark of Kishangarh Miniature paintings, bearing in theme and style what the school truly stands for. The couple is painted across splendid natural and architectural landscapes using vivid but soothing colours. The artwork is also a reflection of the divine and spiritual realm of romance and togetherness.

However, other artists over the years also explored various themes, such as events from the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana, Krishna’s life, other Gods, and the panoramic landscapes of nature.

Evolution of Kishangarh Miniature Paintings

Some paintings were created in Kishangarh before the reign of Sawant Singh. But these were usually that of rulers or natural landscapes. These paintings were also heavily influenced by Mughal Art.

The school of Kishangarh Miniature paintings thus began and flourished the most during the era of Sawant Singh. His son Sardar Singh in Rupnagar continued to encourage the painters. Similarly, after Nihal Chand, several worthy successors took the reins of this art form. Amar Chand (1754-1812) worked in Kishangarh and Rupnagar and created several exceptional miniature paintings, such as the ‘Moonlight Darbar of Sardar Singh’. Other renowned artists during this time were Joshi Sawai Ram, Sitaram and Surajmal (sons of Nihal Chand), Suratram, and Budhlal. Bahadur Singh (a cousin of Sawant Singh) also contributed to the art form, by introducing ‘vir ras’ or the portrayal of courage and valor into the paintings.

As time passed the Kishangarh Miniature paintings started seeing a slow decline in the quality and creativity of the art. During the reign of Rai Kalyan Singh, Mokham Singh, and Prithvi Singh (till 1880) the Kishangarh paintings did not possess the same spark and patronage of earlier times. The British era too did nothing to promote this art form. The astounding brilliance and delicacy of features that were akin to the Kishangarh paintings were replaced by harsh and standard expressions. Some artists continued to follow the Kishangarh paintings, however, they were a far cry from the works of Nihal Chand and Sawant Singh.

Kishangarh Miniature paintings thrived from the 18th to 19th century. They left a rich legacy of intricate, detailed, and beautiful paintings. And these paintings are technically and artistically still renowned and admired by art curators and lovers all over the world.

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