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Akbarnama : Paintings of Mughal Costumes, Ornaments and Cultural History of India


Indian costumes are as varied as the people of India residing on a vast country. The lifestyle and clothes are described in literature and art. The Miniature paintings done during seventeenth and nineteenth century have done a good recording of the exotic costumes and the dresses worn by Indian men and women.

Costumes of India, Mughal [Image courtesy By Auguste Racinet (1825–1893) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons ]

These paintings have described the choices of princes and princesses about how to wear and what to wear. The costumes and ornaments were symbol of their status and hierarchy they belong to in the social ladder. The artists doing miniatures have tried to depict most of the styles of dresses worn by the Indian in the post medieval period in India.

A Nawab of Mughal dynasty, India, 17th-18th century
When Humayun, The emperor of India, called two of the greatest artists belonging to the Bihzad school of Persian Paintings, he would have not imagined how this would affect the art of Indian paintings. These two artists gave lesions in drawing and miniature painting to the Indian artists. With this happening, the real tale of Mughal Miniature started.



A Nawab of Mughal dynasty, India, 17th-18th century. Color and gold on paper.


The Art History: Though based on Persian Miniatures, the Mughal Miniatures are blend of Indian and foreign art. While the Persian painting preferred decorative details over the other aspects, the Indian artists modified the style of miniature painting by adding realistic style. This evolved a distinctive style of painting known as Mughal Miniatures Emperor Akbar was the person who helped these artists. By Anonymous (Simthsonian Freer and Sackler Gallery [1]) [public domain], from Wikimedia Commons


After death of Akbar, his son Jahangir and grandson Shahjahan kept the same artistic flame burning. They insisted adding certain modern themes like realism to the miniature painting. So the artists depicted the natural scenes in the miniatures.


Mumtaz Mahal
The artists: Emperor Akbar had established a special workshop facility for the Miniature artists, in the city of Fatehpur Sikri near to Delhi. These miniature artists would work in a team. One artist would decide the drawing and the general plan of a painting. In fact he would be the person deciding entire composition of a painting. Another would fill the painting with colours. The master artists would then shape out the faces and other details, rendering the objects looking more beautiful. Thus a final art piece would be a work of a team.

Mumtaz Mahal, Wife of Emperor Shahjahan.

The Emperor Akbar was used to see every painting, rewarding the artists especially for an outstanding painting. Akbar liked the scenes depicting the battlefields, warriors in action, and the courts of the emperor. He even liked the women of his family painted. The painting given here is of his wife, Jodhabai. she was a daughter of Rajput king. Akbar had married her to reconfirm that he did recognize all the religions similar. By Redtigerxyz at en.wikipedia (http://www.exoticindiaart.com/artimages/mb77.jpg) [public domain], from Wikimedia Commons


Costumes of People in Court: While looking at the Mughal miniatures we can draw a conclusion that these paintings resemble the Persian style of painting. It is so because the artists who did Mughal era paintings in India had got training from the painters migrated from Persia, today’s Iran.

Miniature Painting of Adhamkhan'e Marriage, Akbarnama 1590-1595 (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons )


Main aspect that catches our eyes is the colourful and costly costumes the people have put on. The costumes shown in these paintings represent the lifestyle prevalent in the period of Mughal Emperors and Rajput kings. Especially the female figures painted in Mughal Miniatures depict the characteristics of Indian tradition of the time.


Their gold and silver ornaments are the mirror of social position of the wealthy class of people lived in that time. The costumes and the colours of their clothes witness the class to which they belonged. These ornaments like Necklaces, bracelets, and rings form part of the set. These add beauty to the men and women of medieval India, showing their choices and preferences. The people shown in Mughal miniature paintings mainly came from upper class and the princely families.


Costumes of Women: For the miniature artists, the Princes and princesses wearing gold ornaments and jewelries were like the mines of the subjects. Like their counterpart in Iran, the then Persia, the Indian miniature painters these subjects extensively. Associated almost exclusively with royalty, the luxury articles like jewelries were, too, were the subject for miniature artists, as it was an emblem of power and proof of the wealth. Portrait of Emperor Akbar's Hindu wife Jodhaba

The paintings under the style of Mughal Miniatures are still being painted by the artists living in and around the city of Jaipur, Rajasthan. These modern works are looking like copies of the old classical master pieces on one hand, and on another they are loaded with modern techniques of perspective painting and use of the rich range of colours available now. These paintings are known as Rajasthan Paintings also. Coupled with such artistic elements, these paintings create outstanding artistic effects in the minds of art lovers.

A noble lady, Mughal dynasty, India. 17th centuryTheme: Depiction of Costumes and ornaments of Medieval India

The period Mughal Dynasty was really the golden spell for the art of miniature paintings. The Emperors who helped the art of painting to flourish were Akbar (reigned 1556-1605), Jahangir (1605-27) and Shah Jahan (1628-58). India was much wider region than it is today; and the Mughal Empire covered most of the Northern India and some parts of the present Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A noble lady, Mughal dynasty, India. 17th century. Color and gold on paper

Emperor Akbar was keenly taking interest in the issues like cultural and paintings. He was fond of assisting the artists in the field of music and painting. And for the augment of these arts, Emperor Akbar had had employed more than one hundred painters who were expert in the art of miniature painting.

These artists did mainly illustrate the texts like Akbarnama, the book that depicted the life of Emperor Akbar. They have also worked on illustrating the books of Hindu religion, too, the scriptures like Ramayana and Mahabharata.
We can say that the Mughal or miniature paintings were a variety of Islamic paintings done during the reign of the Mughal Emperors. These paintings are mainly done in India during sixteenth and seventeenth century. In the second half of the sixteenth century the Indian Mughal painters were taking some clues from the Western artists, too. (Image courtesy By Anonymous (Simthsonian Freer Sackler Gallery [1]) [public domain], from Wikimedia Commons)

In the time of Akbar’s reign, the Mighal Miniature painting was the secular art, dealing with court life, durbar scenes and portraits of royal men and women. The miniature paintings had depicted the costumes and the ornaments, which were prevalent in the time of medieval India.


The Mughal emperor Akbar was a great patron of painting and under whose sponsorship painters had achieved great refinement. These artists had rendered exquisite detail of the Indian men and women and the costumes they wear. Here the three dancing ladies depict the exotic costumes used during the medieval period in India. One of these ladies is dressed in such a manner that we can say that she belongs to a royal family.


Mughal Miniature: Painting Beauty and Elegance of Indian Women

Mastani 28tt13Theme: Mughal Miniature paintings depicting the beauty of women and their lifestyle in the medieval India.

Mughal and Rajput Paintings make a major contribution to the study of north Indian painting. Indian Miniature Paintings of sixteenth century, mainly from the courts of Mughal and Rajput Kings, were characterized by their typical form and look. These miniatures contained large areas of contrasting colours that the artists used quite symbolically.

Mastani popularly known as Bajirao Mastani (died 1740) was the mistress of Baji Rao Peswa (Baji Rao I) (1699-1740), an Indian general and prime minister to the fourth Maratha Chhatrapati (Emperor) Shahuji. She is said to have been one of the most beautiful women in the history of India. Here the artist has tried depicting her unmatched beauty.

These paintings represented the images on flat plane that result in strong two-dimensional design. In many paintings, separate scenes were painted in several sectors of the same work. But the proportions of these sectors risked making the whole painting to look unrealistic. Burt the main strength was their strong linear rhythm. It made the miniatures creating the effect of great energy. The artists have done much labour in making the details of the miniature paintings picturesque. The colours used for depicting the transparency of the clothes are also indicating that the characters sitting in the scene belongs to a highly rich family. The silk clothes were in vogue in that piece of time. However such costly clothes were limited within the wealthy people of the time.

The miniature artists of Mughal era focused their attention on the beauty. They were much attentive to the intricacies of the designs of jewels and drapes, sometimes forgetting the factor of realism that they considered less important.Here in the above miniature the serene beauty of the Mughal characters, especially the sensuality of the lady are the prime, attractive aspects. Moreover the rich designs and ornaments all have been given a splendid treatment by the artists. Look at the lady’s turban and the rich ornaments. Every item had been given a royal and detailed touch. (Image courtesy By Mughal School [public domain], from Wikimedia Commons)

A woman holding a Veena, Mughal, India. 18 century
The Mughal era of miniature paintings owns a noteworthy page in the history of art of paintings in India. The Mughals - descendants of Timur and Genghiz Khan with strong cultural ties to the Persian world - became rules of north India in 1526 and became the most important artistically active Muslim dynasty on the subcontinent.

Woman holding a Veena, Mughal, India. 18 century. Color and gold on paper.



The miniature style of paintings practiced during this period was cleary influenced by the persian style of paintings. The Persian painters of miniature style used upright format and general setting with emphasis on flat aerial perspective. The Mighal era artists, especially in the time of Kink Akbar (1556-1605), maintained that qualities of the Persian style in their work. But they added their vision and took some freedom. They applied naturalism and the tried the depiction of the detailed observation of the world in immediate surround.

Some of the miniatures contain scenes where in the prince, or a king, is sitting with his lover woman. She may be his wife or one of the wives, as the Mughal and Rajaput Kings kept several wives. But the simple scene of two lovers sitting side by side illustrates much more than what we see at the first instance. The company is decorated by seemingly the atmosphere conducive of love: Good arrangement of food and wine accompanied by two young women musicians.

The Mughal miniature paintings are done in India during the time of the kings of Mughal dynasty, especially in the early years. The Mughal dynastic line from Timur to Aurangzeb ruled major parts of India from 1370 till 1857. But the real rulers were Akbar, Jahangir and his contemporaries who lived during 16th and 17th century. The paintings done with sponsorship of the Rajput Kings of Rajastan and other regions of India were greatly affected by this style of miniature paintings. These paintings depicted mainly various activities of the kings, their wives, and the court people. [Image courtesy By Anonymous (Freer Slacker Gallery) [public domain], from Wikimedia Commons]
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