In the ’80s this art form once again emerged from anonymity. By the mid ’90s it was already gaining fast recognition, but this time under a new patron – the Western ‘art’ market. Like every other patron that miniature painting has had, this new patron also has its own set of rules.
Before expounding the rules of the artwork I saw recently, I would like to explain the various world views that the previous patrons of the art had. Miniatures of the sub-continent are divided into three basic schools which chronologically are the Persian, the Mughal, and the Hindu school.
The Persian school is famous for its 16th – 18th century Safavid period manuscripts which were mostly illustrations of Sufi poetry and parables, including writings of Nizami, Sheikh Hafiz, Maulana Rumi and Farid-ud-din Attar. Its patron was the Persian court. In Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s words, “The majority of Persian miniatures depict not a profane world but this intermediary world (imaginal world, or ‘alam al-khayal ) which stands above the physical and which is the gateway to all higher states of being. Like the ‘Lesser Mysteries’, which prepare the adept for the entrance into the abode of the ‘Greater Mysteries’, the miniature, along with similar so called ‘courtly arts’, is a traditional art of the intermediary world in its positive angelic aspect and by virtue of this character has for its subject what we might call the earthly paradise whose joys and beauties it seeks to recreate.”
In his book “The Art of Islam,” Titus Burkhart explains the three styles clearly, “In general terms, the Persian Miniature – and we are here considering it in its best phases – does not seek to portray the outward world as it commonly presents itself to the senses, with all its disharmonies; what it is indirectly describing is the ‘immutable essences’ of things, by which a horse is not simply a particular member of its species but the horse par excellence; it is this generic quality that the art of miniature seeks to grasp. If the ‘immutable essences’ of things, there archetypes, cannot be apprehended because they are beyond form, they are none the less reflected in the contemplative imagination; hence the dream quality – not one of idle reverie – that pertains to the most beautiful miniatures; it is a clear and translucent dream as if illumined from within”.