Mughal Miniatures

Mughal Miniatures


Since times historic, India has been invaded by many forces. While some just took the money, there were a few forces who settled here and started a dynasty. The most prominent force among all were the Mughals. They not only ruled over Delhi for a long time, but also had a profound impact on our culture. These Mughal emperors, apart from being great warriors, were great patrons of the arts. This dynasty pioneered a grand tradition of art forms including miniature paintings that continues to captivate the world even today. The live examples of Mughal architecture can be seen in the form of monuments for example the Taj Mahal and the Lal Quila and even in our cuisine and other art forms. The biggest examples of Mughal culture influence can be seen in the form of Mughlai cuisine and Mughal paintings. 

Mughal Miniatures:

Most Indian kings have been fascinated by art, and have encouraged art and culture. As a result, many art forms evolved from time to time. One such prominent painting style is the Mughal miniature. The painting style originated in the 16th century, when Mughals were ruling India. The painters would paint what was told to them by the reigning emperor. At times, few painters, each expert in his area, would get together and work on a single painting. Most works under this genre reflect intensive combined effort of artisans. The making of the face was typically executed by the most senior artist, as this was the most important part. 

The subject of the painting ranged from portraits of emperor or their family, scenes depicting their courtrooms, hunting or battles fought by them. While at one end, the subject would reveal the emperor’s intrinsic strength and fighting skills, on the other end, it would depict romance of birds. In all the paintings, the artists focused a great deal on bringing out the beauty by intricate detailing of their clothes, jewellery and looks. These details are so fine that one would need magnifying glass to view them. The vibrancy of the paintings was brought out by using finer brush works and subdued natural colours while being decorated with real gold, silver and other precious stones. 

History of Mughal Miniature Paintings: 

The Mughal miniature has its origin in the Persian miniature paintings, and that is why one can see its influence in terms of using flat aerial perspective, upright depiction of the subject and decorated borders.  

Though most people give the credit of establishing Mughal miniature art in India to Akbar, in reality, it was his father, Humayun who brought famous painters Mir Sayyid Ali and Khwaja Abdus Samad Khan from the Persian court.  

These painters started a Royal Art Academy to teach this style to Indian artists and that’s how the art flourished a great deal during Mughal rule, between 16th to 18th centuries. Under the Mughal patronage, these Indian artists created several extraordinary works of art. This was, the painting style spread to other courts in Northern India, even to the courts ruled by Hindu or Sikh rulers.  

Most of the paintings depicted plants and animals as their main subjects. But one thing common in all paintings was an element realism and naturalism in them. Though later, they also adopted the single point perspective, like the European painters and started making using flattened multi-layered style. 

This spread of Mughal art resulted in inter-mingling of foreign Persian and indigenous Indian elements. This made the paintings bolder but less refined. These are often described as "post-Mughal", "sub-Mughal" or "provincial Mughal".  

The fall of Mughal Miniatures:

Unlike his ancestors Akbar, Shahjahan, and Jehangir, Emperor Aurangzeb was quite orthodox and did have no much interest in art. Under his rule, the Royal Art Academy was closed down and the artists were forced to move to other courts. Many artists moved to Rajput courts and the British East India Company. Though, Aurangzeb’s descendants tried a lot to revive the tradition, but they were not successful in reviving the damage caused by Aurangzeb’s oppression. 

Global Exposure and Appeal:

The Mughal rule over India is believed to be the golden period for this art. This period was a great landmark in the art history. Though there were other Indian schools of miniaturist art, which started before the Royal Art Academy and there were some other schools as well, which started after the demise of the Mughal dynasty. But the Royal Art Academy was one of the two most recognized schools of Indian miniature art. These paintings could easily be used as book illustrations or single work of art to be kept in albums. The easy portability of miniatures enabled them to be easily traded from early times and gave them exposure all over the world. 

Mughal Miniature in today: 

The art of making Mughal miniature paintings has been passed on from generations to generations. These paintings are still being created by a few artists in different parts of Rajasthan. Though many of these paintings are only a skillful representation of the original works, there are others, which show remarkable artistic effect. Like many other traditional art forms of India, this art too in facing a threat of dying and needs some oxygen to revive itself. Off late, many contemporary artists from both India and Pakistan have started exploring the miniature tradition to push its boundaries and incorporate contemporary mediums as well as themes. 


Miniature paintings of India have a glorious history. Traditions of miniature paintings were prevalent in Rajasthan, Pahari and Deccani courts. But the most notable in this art form were the Mughal miniatures.  

The Mughal miniature paintings are meant not to be enjoyed just as painting, but rather a story, read from top to bottom. Characterized by graceful lines and delicate brushwork, Mughal miniatures are truly a blend of both Indian and Persian styles.