Miniature art from an era gone by

Miniature art from an era gone by

A prominent art gallery in the city, Arts of the Earth is showcasing a fine exhibition on the 15th century ‘Bikaner School of Miniatures.’   

The Bikaner School of Miniature originated during the reign of Rao Bika of Jodhpur (1488).

Under the patronage of the rulers, it grew to become one of the finest schools of miniature art. Depicting mainly court life, the flora and fauna, the school closely followed the Mughal traditional styles and this is apparent in the early examples which exist from 1600 onwards. While the artistic style kept pace with painters in the Mughal Court, the Bikaneri artists were more expressive and nuanced. 

Around 55 such paintings have been procured from a master of that genre, Raju Swami, who has exhibited his works worldwide, and put together in this exhibition. 

The influence of the Mughal style has been all pervasive in the Bikaner School and the Bikaneri style could be considered almost a provincial idiom of that style. There have been instances of Mughal and Bikaneri miniatures being mistaken for each other. A distinctive feature of the Bikaneri style is the palette of opaque and translucent vegetable and mineral water colours, and a delicate portrayal of nature and human forms.

Day to day accounts from the royal archival diaries (bahis) and numerous inscriptions on Bikaneri paintings, makes this one of the best documented Rajput schools. Inscriptions, mainly in the Marwari dialect, but also occasionally in Persian scripts, reveal the names of artists and dates and in some cases, even the place of production and occasions for which the works were commissioned. 

There is recorded evidence of interactions between visiting Muslim painters from neighbouring Rajput states with local novices, who later adopted Islam and were called ustas. From the 16th through to the 19th centuries this art flourished, and is practised even today.

Raju Swami is a specialist in botanical miniatures. He grinds his own mineral and stone colours by hand, prepares fine brushes from hair plucked from the tail of squirrels, burnishes handmade wasli paper, works with precious gold leaf, preserving the skills and techniques honed over many generations. He often travels to the desert outside Bikaner where he studies the plants, flowers and trees, and translates them into creative botanical studies of exceptional beauty.

Raju Swami’s paintings have been printed as UNICEF cards. His works have been published in the Garden of Life, by Naveen Patnaik (Doubleday New York); and his paintings were included in the 8th International Exhibition of Botanical Art and Illustration, organised by the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation at Pittsburgh. Now, they are up on display for Delhiites too.

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