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History of Art in India, The Rich Heritage

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When we talk about the history of art, from Pottery to sculptures in the Indus valley civilization, and from the pre-historic rock paintings in Bhimbetka, cave wall painting of Ajanta, to one of the earliest wooden carvings, every form of art has been witnessed by the colorful pages in the history of art in India. Geographically, the entire Indian subcontinent has been rich in talent and creation of its own kind in the history of art and what can be seen to date. The connoisseurs of good art were always there shaping the history of art. Be it in a devotion of the deities, or the love of mother nature, that inspired all the great creations, the contents of Indian history of art is a bliss, soothing the eyes and holds depth in it.

While working its way to the modern times, gradually, the art amalgamated with the religion and the culture respectively. The remains of which can be seen in the stone carvings that are found off late as the cornerstone in the history of art.

A Dive into the History

The Indus Valley Civilization, as we know today, was a Bronze age and it existed somewhere around 5000BCE-1300 BCE in the north-western part of Indian subcontinent which is also known as India, Pakistan and Northeastern borders of Afghanistan, which at its peak has been renowned for its contribution in the history of art, with it’s metal paintings, brick and stone carvings, well-planned structures of houses and artwork of terracotta. There was a strong sense of design at that period of time which flourished with time. The proof of which can be found in the reminiscence that we have seen in books and read about. The terracotta figures of animals that were very prevalent at that time included cows, bears, dogs, and monkeys. Not only the terracotta, but the seals also carried the imprints of the animals that are difficult to recognize symbolizing the codes or standards used at that point of time. We must not forget the bronze figurine of the dancing girl that is the symbol of such an advanced skill set at such an early stage of mankind.

history of art

Replica of the “dancing girl of Mohenjo Daro

When this period was coming to an end, there were no other art forms of such stature for a long period of time, until the Mauryan and the Buddhist era arrived. The introduction Stone monuments and statues were on behalf of the Mauryan empire which prevailed from 340 BCE- 232 BCE. The stupas, wooden artwork like the Pataliputra capital are some of the examples of the artwork at that period. Sanchi, Bharhut, and Amravati are some of the sites which securely kept the proofs of the Buddhist era artworks and sculptures. Toranas, the designs of Stupas, the rock cuts of Chaitya Prayer hall and the Viharas are some of the great examples of the artworks at that point in time.

Single Lion capital at Vaishali.

Single Lion capital at Vaishali.

The Gupta empire was prevalent during the 320 CE to 550 CE, where it was regarded as the classic peak of the Indian art as all major religious groups were very actively extending their piece of works at that time. This is proved by the religious works that are still surviving. The Jain Tirthankara figures carved out of stone are the greatest example of such works. Later the dynasties of Southern India gave a proof of work by inscribing on the Ashoka Pillars. Other than that, the Badami cave temples are also an example of the skills present at that time.

history of art

 Cave 3 at the Badami cave temples (Early Chalukya dynasty, c. 6th century CE)

Gradually, when time passed we saw many such famous artworks that exist to date, and are some of the finest examples of the Indian art history. Then, time also saw that Humayun, a great Mughal ruler brought with him
Mir Sayyid Ali and Abd al-Samad, Persian Shah Tahmasp’s renowned atelier two of the finest painters. Akbar, son of Humayaun was a great connoisseur of great art as well and he led to an increment of the number of artists during his reign. The creation of Hamazanama is one such example.

history of art

Jama Masjid, Delhi, Willam Carpenter, 1852. Watercolor.

His son Jahangir and later his son Shahjahan, were none less than their ancestors in the taste of good art. It’s because of Shahjahan, the world actually gets to view Taj Mahal. A contribution in the architectural field that is incomparable.

history of art

The painting of this time included RajDarbar proceedings, with the handing over of documents by mantras to the emperor.

history of art

durbar scene with the newly crowned Emperor Aurangzeb, is also a masterpiece added to the Indian history of art.

Deccan art also saw a great boom with the perfect example of CharMinar in the present Hyderabad and the gol Gumbaz in Karnataka.

During the British colonial rule, the history of art in Indian had an impact. The renowned patrons who were now old, started to become less wealthy and their influence did not have a great impact as the Western art started taking its place and Art schools were being established in major cities. One of them would be the Bombay Art Society.  During this period, the watercolour was the prime medium to convey the art, later on, when the British rule came it, the fusion on Indian culture with the European style witnessed the flourishment of oil paintings in in a great way. To name one, we can see Raja Ravi Varma’s oil painting of a sari-clad woman.

history of art

Shakuntala by Raja Ravi Varma(1870). Oil on canvas.

Contemporary art started to take its way during the early 1900s in India when the country was busy seeing the establishment of the free rule. The Tagore family was a renowned name in the contribution of the modern art. To name a few, Abanindranath Tagore, is regarded as the father of modern Indian art. Great artists like K. H. Ara, S. K. Bakre, H. A. Gade, M.F. Husain, S.H. Raza and Francis Newton Souza – founded the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group Post-Independence. Later on, all the famous artist in the history of art were influencing the society and helped to build the art that we see modern day artists create.

The contemporary, the figurative, the abstraction, the sculptures that we see today are the result of the sheer hard work and a great history of art.


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March 2019
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