Cultures & Traditions

Mughal Painting

Indian painting during the Mughal era was created in a variety of cultural and religious contexts. Sometimes described as "miniature paintings," many of these images were originally part of illustrated manuscripts and were generally intended to be viewed in intimate, personal settings by connoisseurs and elites.

Painting from the Mughal period reflects native Indic traditions of religious manuscript painting, particularly vibrantly illustrated Hindu epics and Jain and Buddhist texts, and also the Persian painting traditions that the Mughal rulers brought to India. Mughal paintings often depict historical subjects and have a refined elegance emphasizing linework. During the 16th century, Mughal imperial workshops, particularly under Akbar, experimented with new approaches in painting, such as naturalistic portraits of rulers, warriors, and other figures at court.

Indian painting in the courts of Rajasthan and the Punjab Hills was influenced by Mughal court art, but had a strong regional flavor as well. The diversity of regional styles persisted and continued to evolve after the decline of Mughal painting later in the 17th century. Eighteenth-century paintings from Rajasthan show a lively interest in human reality and the pleasures of courtly life. Secular scenes are more common than the earlier religious and epic paintings.

The Dallas Museum of Art's Indian paintings includes works ranging from the 17th to 19th centuries that attest to these rich artistic developments. Subject matter includes portraits of nobility, illustrations from the Hindu epics, popular religious subjects, and scenes from courtly life. Painting styles are rich and diverse, from the Malwa school of central India with its bold, dramatic, and brightly colored Hindu images, to the cool, elegant refinement of courtly life depicted in a 17th-century Mughal painting.

Adapted from

  • Anne Bromberg, "Painting" in The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 124.

Fun Facts

  • Painters at the courts of the Deccan, in central India, had their own brilliantly coloristic style, which predates Mughal influence and was retained over the centuries in luxuriant and complex compositions.

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