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Monumental "Miniatures": Large-scale Paintings from India

October 9, 2010 - April 2011

The so-called "miniature" paintings of India, like their Persian counterparts, were made in sets to illustrate stories and were intended to be viewed at a close distance, usually by one person at a time. In some cases, however, Indian "miniatures" were produced on a grand scale, making them especially well suited for certain devotional rituals and group activities such as storytelling. A painting's monumental format could also emphasize the grandeur of its subject, be it the much-loved cowherd god, Krishna, or a powerful king. With a larger surface on which to paint, artists could express enormous creativity, sometimes constructing compositions with many details and episodes in the same work. But finding materials for these oversized paintings sometimes posed a challenge. Paper, the preferred medium for illustrated manuscripts in India from as early as the fourteenth century, was difficult to make in very large sheets. Artists, therefore, used textiles and other materials to create the expansive fields they needed. Unlike murals done directly on the walls of buildings and caves, which have a long and rich history on the Indian subcontinent, monumental works on cotton and wood were both portable and easy to store.

Drawing from the Museum's collection, Monumental "Miniatures" features a selection of paintings dating from the fifteenth through the twenty-first centuries. With highlights including an elaborate storytelling scroll from the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and an extraordinary depiction of Krishna and his beloved, Radha, from Kishangarh in the western state of Rajasthan, this exhibition explores the great regional and thematic diversity of India's tradition of large-scale painting. Also on view is a sumptuous reinterpretation of an illustrated manuscript by the contemporary Pakistani-American artist Shahzia Sikander. At nearly five feet tall, this work reveals in clear, bold terms the deep impress of the "miniature" upon artistic practice today.

Main Building


Yael Rice, Assistant Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art

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