Unique and Well-Known Rajasthani Miniature Paintings
You may have heard about the Indian schools of Miniature painting. Each school had a peak and a period of decline. The quality of the paintings from different eras of the same school wasn’t consistent in the slightest. At their zenith, the schools produced beautiful masterpieces, and during their decline, the paintings showed a decrease in quality and originality. Let’s look at the famous Rajasthani Miniature paintings from different schools and find out what makes them unique.
The Schools of Rajasthani Miniature Painting
The Rajasthani Schools of Miniature Painting include the Mewar, Malwa, Bundi, Kota, Kishangarh, Jaipur, Bikaner, and Jodhpur Schools. They were divided into the three main subschools of Mewar, Marwar, Hadoti, and Dhundhar.
The Famous Rajasthani Miniature Paintings of Mewar
Mewar Chawand Ragmala, 1605 A.D., Nisaruddin
Rana Amar Singh commissioned Nisaruddin to create the Chawand Ragmala. It is one of the most famous Mewar miniatures. It is the earliest-dated Ragamala series of Rajasthan and marks the end of the Rajput style and the beginning of the Mewar style’s artistic evolution.
These paintings show Nisaruddin’s distinctive style. The colour palette is well-balanced—a dark prussian blue contrasting with the scarlet hues that cloak the characters. The use of colours is restrained and heavily reliant on the red-blue contrast; we see some pops of yellow and cool-toned green vegetation. All the compositions contain some sort of animal life, whether it is peacocks, a fawn, or the two egrets peeking out from the trees in the Bangal miniature.
The Famous Rajasthani Miniature Paintings of Malwa
Illustrated Amaru Shataka, 1652, artist unknown
These paintings illustrate the hundred verses of the Amaru Shataka. This now dispersed folio is part of several museum collections, attributed to a different estimate of years. However, it is easy to discern that they were part of the same collection. These paintings show the signature characteristics of the Malwa style: dark backgrounds, blocks of single colours, and illustrations of architecture. Observe the arches in paintings 1 and 2 and the similar patterns on the buildings.
Each painting contains certain verses by Amaru and depicts situations like quarrels and separation, compromise and reconciliation, and other such interpretations of lovers. This Amaru Shataka is one of the earliest-dated Malwa miniatures.
The Famous Rajasthani Miniature Paintings of Bundi
The Ragini Varari, Raga Malkounsa, Krishna stealing butter, and Ragini Vibhasa were four famous Bundi Miniature paintings. These four paintings belong to the end of the reign of Rao Chattrasal and date back to 1650–1660 A.D. They drew some inspiration from the Chunnar Ragmala. However, Bundi artists render faces in a much more refined manner, with broad foreheads.
A strong Mughal influence is visible through the Shahjahanii turban that Krishna wears in the above painting. Along with these paintings, the illustrated manuscripts of the Bhagavata Purana are also quite famous.
The Famous Rajasthani Miniature Paintings of Kota
Maharao Ram Singh was a great patron of the arts and commissioned many intricate paintings depicting court scenes and festivities. This painting commemorates his marriage to the sister of Maharaja Sarup Singh of Udaipur. Kota artists portrayed architecture from a somewhat realistic perspective, but not true to scale. They painted the important figures much bigger than the rest, which allows less important details to recede into the background. Notice the presence of British soldiers in the image.
Kota paintings are very well known for their exceptional portrayal of life and animated action through hunting scenes and elephant studies.
The Famous Miniature Paintings of Kishangarh
We cannot mention Kishangarh paintings without talking about Bani Thani. She was the mistress-turned-queen of Maharaja Sawant Singh. Her real name was Vishnupriya, but she was called Bani Thani because of how she adorned herself with exquisite makeup and jewellery. Bani and Sawant Singh were very close and were both interested in poetry and music.
Many paintings of Bani Thani are attributed to Nihal Chand. He painted her with sharp features, arched eyebrows, and elongated eyes shaped like lotus petals. His highly stylized portrayal of an undoubtedly beautiful woman became the beauty standard and signature style of Kishangarh painting.
He created many paintings of the king and Bani Thani as Radha and Krishna. Unsurprisingly, creating compositions of the gods with the faces of royalty was a popular practise in those times. However, it is also symbolic due to the fact that the lovers lived in Vrindavan after Sawant Singh gave up the throne.
The Famous Miniature Paintings of Jaipur
Let’s move on to the Jaipur School. It was famous for its life-sized portraits and large canvases. Scholars believe that Sahib Ram was the head of the Jaipur atelier. He was extremely popular and employed a large number of artists and subordinates in his workshop. His career spanned from 1750 to 1820, and he served six different kings during that period.
This large-scale portrait of Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh probably belongs to the early period of his reign. He was crowned when he was 14, and it is clearly visible in this painting. His eyes are lotus-shaped, and Sahib Ram was probably inspired by the Kishangarh style. His youthful appearance is evident by his small build, faint facial hair, and how big the crown looks on him. Compare it to the below painting, which shows a much older Pratap Singh.
This painting also shows the fluid linework that is characteristic of Sahib Ram’s paintings. He was a master of stylization and mural painting. He always painted Pratap Singh with a signature curl at the nape of his neck and a Vaishanva tilak, which emphasises his devotion to Lord Krishna. Sahib Ram also created several studies before he started his mural paintings.
The Famous Rajasthani Miniatures of Bikaner
Some famous paintings of the Bikaner school include works by Ali Raza, Ruknuddin, and Usta Natthu. Ali Raza was originally an artist from Delhi but worked at the Bikaner School. The king, Karan Singh, had a dream and instructed Ali Raza to create a painting on the subject. This led to the development of the Vaikuntha Darshana, or ‘Abode of Vishnu’ theme. While there aren’t many records of Ali’s work after 1660, it is widely believed that he trained the master artist Ruknuddin.
The Vaikuntha Darshanatheme pioneered by Ali Raza soon became popular among his contemporaries, and they painted several reinterpretations of it.
Ruknuddin replaced Ali Raza as the master painter at Bikaner. He loved painting beautiful women and was a master at rendering clothing and porcelain-like skin. He also painted the Vaikuntha Darshana theme while changing some elements of the background. A huge body of work with a variety of different styles has been attributed to him. It is believed that he had several aides who worked on his paintings while staying true to his original style.
This painting by Ruknuddin shows a strong Mughal influence in the composition as well as the theme. He also travelled to the Deccan region and integrated some of their artistic sensibilities into his work. Ruknuddin uses a bright and jewel-toned colour palette to reflect the beauty and luxurious lifestyles of the subjects. This glimpse into the private royal zenana is painted sincerely while providing the viewer with a sense of the pleasures of intimate royal life.
The Famous Miniature Paintings of Jodhpur
The above painting shows that, contrary to popular belief, the women of the royal court actively participated in activities like sports and hunting. The artist Ali paints the stormy weather with a stylised flourish of swirls and wavy golden lines. We can identify Maharaja Takhat Singh at first glance due to his camel riding separately from the ladies of the zenana and also the golden nimbus behind his head. All of the members of the hunting party carry toradar guns, which are short and easier to handle while riding a camel. The king and his companion have equipped their guns with bayonets- a knife that can be attached to a firearm and used as a long range weapon.
This painting by Bulaki also shows royal women actively participating in sports. The artist has depicted a complicated composition in a simple manner. A distinctive feature of Jodhpur miniature paintings is the halo around the Mharaja’s head. It is usually not present when he is alone, but rather when he is painted in a scene with several others. This also shows the differences in how the schools portrayed the same concept: if this painting were created in the Kota style, the king would be painted bigger instead of with a halo.
Styles, Sensibilities, and Subtleties of Rajasthani Miniatures
While the styles of Indian Miniature painting often overlap, they include certain specific elements that distinguish them from each other. Studying these nuances gives us an interesting insight into the lives of the royalty and common man in those periods, as well as the lifestyles and thought processes of the painter. With time, the trained eye can tell apart the schools of Miniature painting at first glance.
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