In Indian art generally, possibly because of its
predominantly religious character, the symbolic level is always
the more important. The depicted surface-reality always very strongly
implies some general statement.
For instance, the animals and
plants of the Buddhist frescoes are not just animals and plants
but symbols of the whole of creation, a statement that it is animated,
that it feels and suffers. The Rajasthani miniature, though historically
closely related to the Mughal miniature, is even more burdened
A painting of Krishna with herd of cows carries
metaphysical and erotic overtones; a picture of lovers suggests,
for example, a musical key and the season of the year.
The Mughal miniature, however, runs counter to
this general trend in Indian art. It is non-symbolic; it does
not imply any reality that it does not portray. Exceptions to
this rule are to be found only on the fringes of the art, for
instance in the early 'Hamza Nama' illustrations, which suggest
to us that they are trying to make some moral statement.
Spiritual and emotional matters never occupied
the first place in the Mughal scheme of things. This was filled
by a sincere, if rather naive, interest in the subject matter itself.
We see this characteristic for the first time in Babur's annals,
in this skilful and objective accounts of Indian scenes. Akbar's
third son, Daniyal, confesses candidly that for art to interest
him it must deal with subjects within his own experience, with
something 'that we ourselves have seen and heard'. Jahangir devotes
long passages in his memoirs to the description of Indian plants
and animals. But even in the representation of everyday life,
the emphasis of the miniature was on objectivity, on the need
for veracity, and more minute and careful study of detail.
This objectivity is the basic aesthetic standard
of the Mughal miniature. It is only contravened in works outside
the mainstream of the art or in those of some particularly creative
artist. Ustad Mansur's unofficial sketch of three geese, for instance,
reveals a warmth of feeling absent from his usual coolly objective
style. However, it is worth noting, that a few masterpieces by
the great portraitists display a similar insight, as well as a
veracity 'worthy of the modern police dossier'.
We find, next, that the miniature tended to concentrate
on objects and events rather than on action or narrative, despite
its close relation to epic literature. The miniature is not epic.
This is true even of the illustrations from Akbar's era. The Mughal
painter is a clumsy story teller. He does not unfold a story,
but rather shows an important event by, so to speak, piling up
an agglomeration of nouns and limiting his use of verbs. A characteristic
example of this is Basawan's illustration of the commissioning
of Master Rashid-ud-din. Nothing happens in the picture, everything
seems to suggest that an important event is meant to have taken
place. In Jahangir's time, the static quality of the paintings
and their concentration on the event becomes even more marked.
State occasions, durbars, visits to hermits, all turn to stone
under the gaze of Imperial official photographers. The preponderance
of portraits, whether of courtiers, animals, flowers, or beauties,
in itself testifies to the victory of the noun over the verb.
Another stage in the deformation of reality, unavoidable
for the painter, is the reduction of three dimensional reality
to the two dimensions of his medium. Here he has the choice of
either disregarding the problem and confining himself to the two-dimensional
plane - as, for instance, in some of the 'apabhramsha' paintings
or in the early Rajput miniature - or of creating by some means
an allusion of volume and space. Of course, the mere superimposition
of figures in a two-dimensional picture is in itself a primitive
form of illusion, as it tries to create the impression that the
figures higher up in the image are further away. The technique
consists of tilting the base of the composition through ninety
degrees; in other words, some of the details - a brook, a swimming-pool,
a carpet - are drawn from the bird's eye view, and the figures
in direct view. This was the practice in the Persian miniature
and in some of the mediaeval Indian illustrations.
The development of the miniature, of course, brought
about changes in the stylisation's of individual features and
forms - such as the nose, the eyes and the scarf. A knowledge
of these changes is very useful in determining questions of period,
individual style and so on. However, it is worth noting that each
of these stylisation's develop in confirmity, with the general
rules governing the art, and no painter ignored them completely.
The Mughal painters never used color in such a
way as to reduce the picture to a mere tapestry or mosaic, as
do the Persian painters; nor do they beat out the robust rhythm
of large colored areas, so characteristic of some of the local
Indian schools. As for brush strokes they depend even more than
color on the personality of the painter; the quality of the line
drawing changes, therefore, perceptibly in successive periods
of the miniature. Nevertheless, the whole character of Mughal
art by its own importance forces the painter to suppress his handwriting
and individuality of touch. For this reason, the elegant calligraphic
style of the Persian miniature, and the expressive robustness
of line of the Rajasthani school, is but seldom found in Mughal art.
All these rules of artistic deformation and stylisation,
and perhaps even some others, form the main distinctive characteristics
of the Mughal miniature. They are its 'grammar'. They have their
own logic which governs both the miniatures' development and their
relationships to other miniatures. It is this unique logic that
makes the Mughal miniature a separate and distinctive school of
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