History of Indian Paintings

indian artwork
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From Jahangir’s brushwork miniatures reclining in Mughal fortresses to the soul-stirring masterpieces of M.F. Hussain, India carries a legendary history of artists and a rich heritage of artwork. Read below and explore more about the history of Indian paintings along with some interesting facts.

Be it an ancient tribe of scientists meditating in rocky caves or a modern-day painter with a lavish art gallery, visual artistry in India has always held a special place in the hearts of art lovers. Use of exotic colors, materials, textures, and imagery is usually accompanied by lots of emotional expressions, which, perhaps forms the Indian paintings a treat for the soul. Below mentioned is a snapshot of the history of Indian paintings you’ll be fascinated to discover. Let’s dive in!

‘The Age of Symbols & Petroglyph Paintings

Petroglyphs were the most ancient painting style of Indians, practiced nearly thirty thousand years ago. These paintings can be found in huge quantities in Bhumbeta Caves these days, apart from various museums and historical buildings.

A petroglyph is basically a type of painting which is made by nipping and pecking directly into a raw piece of rock. The symbols created are visible through the chipping away of rock’s surface and appearance of internal soft rock matter. The drawings created are then varnished, powdered or color filled for the preservation of the outlines.


The Muse of Murals

An art form originated in the 2nd century, murals are drawings and paintings created directly on walls or ceilings. During earlier times, these were created in the form of etchings and carvings on the walls of caves, rock shelters, brick stone castles or rock-cut chambers.  Later on, they were translated or imitated in various manuscripts and texts.

These murals were painted mainly on the themes of religion and spiritual philosophies including Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. Nowadays, these murals can be seen painted on the frescoes of Ajanta & Ellora caves and on the plastered walls of Chola caves.


The Arrival of Indian Miniature Painting Art

Combining various Eastern philosophies and techniques, miniature paintings appeared in expression first during the early 17th century in Western Himalayan regions. Created on taadpatras, a form of sheet created out of palm tree leaves, these miniature paintings were based on the themes of religion, mythology, love stories, and folklore. These included paintings of Vaishnav, Buddhist paintings, Radha Krishna paintings, Jain paintings and likewise.


The highlight of these paintings is that they are character based. Plus the use of naturally made colors, intricate brushstrokes, and smooth detailing give these paintings an unusually attractive gleam. Say, for instance, in most Radha Krishna paintings, you’ll notice the character form of Lord Krishna is painted in indigo blue colour.


Painting Styles from Royal Kingdoms


The period between the late 17th century and 19th century marked the new milestone of storytelling through the art of painting. With the settling of royal palaces, forts and kingdoms in the country, artists and artwork both started coming into public recognition. This further began the series of juicy creativity, royal interest, and springing of various painting styles across different parts of India. Some of the most common among these styles are mentioned below.

  • Mughal Artwork

During this time, miniature paintings saw their rebirth with the culmination of Islamic style with a Persian twist. From the generation of King Akbar to Jahangir, Mughals took a huge interest in this art, and hence showed active participation in the paintings. In fact, if you’d visit Fatehpur Sikhri any time, the palace King Akbar dedicated to his beloved Jodha, you will see a plethora of these miniature paintings glimmering like rainbows across the walls.


  • Rajputana Paintings

Rajputana paintings are relatively composed of day to day scenes including landscapes, routinely moments, themes of nature as well as scenes from the stories of love and war. These stories and scenes were taken from Ramayana, Mahabharata, Govardhana tales, Radha Krishna paintings and more. Paintings of the Rajput kingdom, these were created in Rajasthani or Pahari style.  


  • Mysore Paintings

Originated in Vijaynagar Kingdom, Mysore painting is a specialized style of painting that comprises of embossed gold foil carvings and settling tones of colors. Based on the themes of Hindu Gods & Goddesses, this South Indian painting art is carried out on a wooden base.


  • Tanjore Paintings

Similar to the theme of Mysore paintings, Tanjore or Thanjuvar paintings are based on the depiction of classical art forms including dance, music, and folklore tales.

Apart from these, there are many, many styles of paintings originated during 18th and 19th century periods.


Paintings in Modern India


Postcolonial era and followed by the period of India’s Independence, the country viewed an entirely fresh horizon of great influential painters. From oil to watercolor to emboss to fabric and clay, the painting styles these days have evolved to an all new level and categories. But some of them still remain the heart of India’s painting picture!


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