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The Values of Manuscript Art

The transformation of cave paintings into flat, two-dimensional art designed explicitly for ancient manuscripts remains a complex topic in the history of manuscript art. This is due to the lack of available manuscript paintings between the 7th and 10th centuries. Although the objective behind this evolution remains unclear, we can posit potential reasons for it. However, before delving into these reasons, it is crucial first to identify the changes that occurred within manuscript painting that signify the values of manuscript art.

In my previous article, I delved into the significance of the cave paintings at Ajanta. These works of art featured critical grammatical concepts and modeling in a simplified and abbreviated form, particularly in the miniature manuscript painting style. One noteworthy aspect was the connecting link composition found in Ajanta's story-telling paintings based on 'Jataka.' This required a sequential continuation of the narrative from one painting to another. However, this innovation was disregarded by artists during the Pala dynasty and Nepal manuscript art since their stories were already written down. Most manuscripts, including Jain documents till 1400 Century, showcased an equal symmetry on both sides with a pivotal figure placed centrally for balance and harmony that evoked calmness and meditative obsession. The figures' gestures were composed decently using traditional Indian craftsmanship that exuded elegance and sophistication.

Jain Manuscript: Kalakacarya Katha
Jain Manuscript: Kalakacarya Katha

Most of these vertically-composed front-faced figures bore an air of authority even when depicted as part of a group composition. It seemed like they were watching rather than interacting with viewers directly - a vision that permeated Jain manuscripts where some figures faced upwards even when viewed from afar or portrayed at profile angles. We can see echoes of this style later in Basohli Kalam's Indian miniature paintings; it aimed to convey absolute collectivity through its use of vision. As such, this article highlights how artistic innovation can influence subsequent styles while encouraging readers to appreciate India's rich cultural heritage through its artwork.

The purpose of the cave paintings was to enhance the spiritual impact on the minds of ordinary viewers and devotees. In contrast, manuscript paintings were created for novice learners seeking entertainment alongside reading. This facilitated readers in comprehending the subject matter more deeply. The relationship between Buddhist paintings at Ajanta and mural paintings during medieval times, particularly in the Pala era, is difficult to explain due to a lack of evidence regarding mural paintings from this period. Despite having no written descriptions from Chinese travelers, it is worth noting that according to Samarangana Sutradhara[3], eight aphorisms were implemented in Indian miniature paintings.

1. Bartika. It's not a method. Instead, it indicates a pen used to draw, especially for mural painting.

2. Bhumi Bandhan. Referred to the drawing paper or the surface of the painting.

3. Lekkha. Indicates the painting.

4. Rekha. This means the primary drawing of a painting.

5. Barnakarma. Suggest color preparation and color mixing.

6. Bartanakrama. Describe the plastic value and the modeling of a painting.

7. Lakhani. The final drawing is based on the primary drawing suggested by Rekha.

8. Dwika Karma. Indicates the finishing touch of a painting.

All the aphorisms mentioned above were effectively implemented in miniature manuscript art. During that period, drawings were created using colors opposite to those of the object and then finalized with the same color as the object to develop plasticity. It is truly remarkable how modeling was achieved solely through lines.

While it can be challenging to achieve modeling and plasticity in two-dimensional form, these same aphorisms were applied through contrasting colors in miniatures of the Mughal era, resulting in a sense of mass and volume. We also observe some aspects of modeling in Pala manuscripts.

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