Almost as colorful as the state’s tradition of festivals is its celebrations of arts, and nowhere is this more manifest than in the variety and artistry of its varying forms of painting. Even this takes on two distinctive hues- the formal school of miniature paintings that flourished in courts all over north India and the Deccan, and the folk traditions that resulted in a style quite unique to Rajasthan.
The miniature is, at its most basic, a portfolio painting that uses techniques similar to wall paintings, cloth paintings or manuscript illustrations from which it may have evolved. Example of miniatures in the Mughal and Rajasthani styles exist from the 16th century on when there was an efflorensence of the art. Just as there is a difference in the romantic Kangra style, so too the Mughal and Rajasthani styles developed separate identities that, though less apparent to the layperson’s eye, nevertheless stand out clearly as far as the connoisseur of art is concerned.
From 16th century through the 18th, the miniature style developed independently in the kingdoms, the differences being marked in the way the painter looked at the countryside, the hills and shrubs, the forts and gardens and dunes of the desert.
Today, miniatures are turned out in almost assembly line in the studios that have been especially developed to cater to the tourist souvenir trade. Even now, the talent available is formidable, and while the best of the artists rarely see their way into the open market (they are commissioned directly, and their work may find its way into collections, or be used to illustrate prestigious art books).
The Royal Ateliers of Rajasthan
In rajasthan, there were seven distinctive styles of what are also referred to as Rajput paintings, and they evolved in the following seven states:
Bikaner – One of the finest schools of miniatures developed in this desert state. Early examples exist from 1600 on and show a marked Mughal influence. In fact, the local style kept pace with the painters in the Mughal court, and were expressive of their nuances, even while the Bikaneri artist tended to be more expressive. There have been cases of Mughal and Bikaneri miniatures being mistaken for each other, even though the paintings used backgrounds and colourscapes that are more pleasant, and the foliage (as if to make up for the desert conditions), more luxuriant.
Bundi and Kota – Though the two ateliers eventually developed separate identities, they began with marked common identities. The result of the rise of the school of miniatures here was the result Mughal intervention that blended the two traditions of illustrating court scenes.
In Bundi school, the background usually consists of thick foliage, with a sky over laden with clouds and illuminated by the light of the setting sun. Where used, the architectural background is equally impressive, with palaces and apartments depicted in the fine detail. There is a lyrical expression of love that permeates the paintings, and ornamental backgrounds.
The same style evolved in Kota, but drifted away to develop its own expression in a similar but independent form.
Kishangarh – The Kishangarh figures are exceptionally attractive, and show a refined delicacy. The backgrounds share the elaborate styling of the Mughal paintings, but the artist in Kishangarh has used a greater expression of creative freedom. The artists tended to favour the use of evening light, with grey skies setting off the fine colours of the rest of the subject of their canvas. However, the fine temperament lasted only a few decades, but its outstanding contribution ranks it among the finest body of work to find expression in a canvas of such elaborate colours.
Jaipur – The Jaipur gharana of miniatures, while still active, was also its most formal. Akin to the Mughal in its use of backgrounds, and in the use of court settings, it differed in the subjects that spanned a more secular range. Of all the schools in Rajasthan, Jaipur’s use of colours is the most understated. Its depiction of scenes of nature, no doubt inspired by Jehangir, too are exceptional.
Marwar – The Rathore kingdoms tended to depict similar characteristics for, though they were often at loggerheads, they were also inspired by the same creative expressions.
Their miniature style, which is best seen in the works of the artist at Jodhpur, merges it with the traditional depiction of the human figure, which by the 18th century, had been perfected. Even paintings showing rulers practicing religious rituals are not devoid of this quality of vibrancy. The backgrounds tend to be characteristic too with thick, rich decorative leaves of trees, and skies enriched with thick, rolling clouds. Aniline colours too are important features.
Mewar – One of the largest ateliers in Rajasthan was to be found in Udaipur where, from the beginning of the 17th century till the end of the 19th, there has been an uninterrupted progression in miniature art.
The Mewar school is celebrated for its strong colours and decorative designs. The landscape has been emphasised so that the human figures tend to integrate with it. The decorative features were further accentuated with Mughal crossfertilisation when a mosaic-like, decorative character evolved, especially with regard to foliage. Later, lifestyle portraits developed in the Sisodia atelier, replacing nature in a sense with the background of the palaces of the Ranas.