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The Magic of Indian Miniature Painting

                                                                By Diana McLeod                                                        2011

The courtship takes place in an exotic Mughal palace, in a scene straight out of the Arabian nights. On an elegant porch balcony overlooking a tropical garden, the Maharajah and his beloved gaze deeply into each others' eyes. They lounge on fine Persian carpets and soft brocade pillows, beneath the white marble domes and graceful archways of a fairytale palace. The lovers are dressed in shimmering silks and adorned with pearls and precious stones. Flowering jasmine scents the evening air as cranes and peacocks strut around the palace lawns below.

The fantasy leaps from the imagination onto the paper. In a space no larger than four by six inches, the artist has brought his enchanted world to life. His painting is meticulously copied from a 16th century original, which is now hanging in a museum. The original was probably commissioned by one of the Mughal Emperors or the Rajput Maharajahs of Medieval Rajasthan. The copy is one of many in the collection of the painter Ram Singh. I am sitting in his small shop in Jaipur, choosing artwork to sell at Tradewinds. It'’s a very pleasant way to spend a sultry afternoon! We sip freshly squeezed fruit juice, and talk about the history of the art and the techniques used to create these miniature masterpieces.

Ram Singh began his apprenticeship with a master miniaturist at the age of fourteen. Now, many years later, he is a distinguished gentleman and a true master of the art. He has perfected his ability to faithfully reproduce the antique pieces still in museums today, and he also has produced a personal collection of original artworks using Mughal and Hindu themes. His original paintings take my breath away. They have all the attention to detail that his reproductions do, but in these, he lets his own artistic expression free. The results are magical.

Ram Singh prefers to work on antique paper. He has searched far and wide to find antique tomes to use as backdrops for his art. He told me that his last search for hand written calligraphy took him all the way to Northern Pakistan, where he found some two hundred year old texts written in Persian. He bought them, and brought them home, where he has carefully taken them apart, page by page. The paper and the calligraphy alone are treasures. The books, which were purchased twenty years ago, are nearly used up. He tells me sadly that he only has fourteen precious pages left of one book. After that, he doubts that he will ever find such calligraphy again. Tradewinds is indeed lucky to have the opportunity to get a collection of these paintings one last time before the paper runs out.

The work takes an incredible amount of time and patience. First, the paints need to be made by hand. Ram Singh makes most of his own colors in the traditional way. Ochre and colored clays make the earth tones. Turquoise, lapis and other semi precious stones are ground into fine powder to make the blues and purples. Greens and yellows come from leaves. The black is made from charcoal. Real gold and silver are often to applied illuminate the scene.

At first, a layer of white clay is applied to the paper. Then the design is sketched out on the white background and layers of color are applied. Like his teacher before him, Ram Singh employs apprentices who do a large portion of the work. The apprentices do the simplest part of the painting, like filling in the background colors. Journeymen painters do the background detail. Ram Singh himself applies the finishing touches, creating the expressions on the faces and the incredible detail of hair, eyelashes and shading detail. In order to do this, he uses brushes from the hair of young squirrels. He tells me that he has personally trapped squirrels in order to shave their tails to get the finest hair. He makes his own brushes, using about ten hairs. Some detail is done with a single hair. The finest paintings are done entirely by the master painter himself. The quality of his work is amazing.

I bought a large quantity of paintings, and Dave got many of them framed in Bali. Some are still unframed. All are available for viewing. The framers did a fine job. The ones with calligraphy on the backside have been framed in double sided glass. I hope many of you will come in to see this collection. They are truly special. If you are ever searching for a unique wedding gift, I can'’t think of anything more striking or romantic than these. Fee free to ask to see the collection at Tradewinds.

Thanks for reading! Diana

P.S. You can google search "Indian Miniature Paintings" to see many beautiful examples of miniatures. I have copies of quite a few of the famous classics in our collection.

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