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Book Arts of India

May 7–November 6, 2005

The exquisite “miniature“ paintings of the Indian subcontinent are often seen framed on museum walls, yet most were actually created as individual pages of much larger illustrated “books“ (manuscripts or unbound series). Through examples of bound books, book covers, loose folios, and other items from the museum’s collection, this exhibition will explore facets of the region’s rich tradition of book production and illustration. Several rare works recently acquired by the museum give clues to the nature of early book formats in India: a multi-page “book“ made of copper (sixth-seventh century) and a page of a Jain religious manuscript written and painted on palm leaf (late thirteenth-early fourteenth century).

The technique for making paper first came to India from western Asia via Muslim traders, invaders, and settlers. By the late-fourteenth century, paper had almost entirely replaced palm leaf and the other materials. Over the next five hundred years, illustrated paper manuscripts and series became one of the subcontinent’s major art forms. Their wonderful variety reflects the religious, regional, temporal, and financial diversity of their patrons and makers. Not only do these books differ in their choices of texts and in their painting styles, but they also exploit a host of options for the proportions and orientation of pages and for the materials and techniques used to bind or hold those pages together. Even more fascinating are the many ways artists devised to integrate words with images on the same page, making them into visual complements and powerful storytelling partners.

Main Building


Darielle Mason, Stella Kramrisch Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art

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