These western regions of the subcontinent provide, in the form of manuscript illustrations, some of the oldest surviving examples of Indian painting. Most of these paintings are to be found in Jain texts, the earliest of which are dated to the twelfth century, though most are later.
Examples of manuscript painting dated to the fifteenth century accompany Hindu texts such as the Gita Govinda of Jayadeva, and the Bhagavata Purana. These texts detailing the life of Krishna were of great importance in the development of the cult of the God during the period of Muslim control throughout the north of India. These illustrations show many of the basic and apparently innate characteristics of Indian painting, which frequently occur in other regions and at other times.
Such characteristics include the background slabs of a single, bright, vibrant colour, the lack of concern with perspective, and the interest in the decorative possibilities of illustration, at the expense of the possibilities of realism. One scholar (Topsfield in Gray 1981) has named this style the Early Rajput style. On the southern edge of the Rajput kingdoms, in Malwa, this flat, decorative and brilliant style continued into the latter part of the seventeenth century. Elsewhere in Rajasthan, however, Mughal stylistic conceptions entered the canons of court painters almost a hundred years earlier.
During the Mughal period (sixteenth to eighteenth centuries) western India, and especially Rajasthan, was ruled by princely houses, many of whom maintained painters at their courts. The paintings from these courts, such as Jaipur, Bikaner and Udaipur, show a mixed inheritance.
Stylistically they looked both to the Early Rajput style, and to the contemporary imperial style of the Mughal courts, where the Rajput princes were often obliged to spend time as courtiers. Through this contact with Mughal life, features of Persian painting practice entered the Rajput style, for the artists of the Mughal court were particularly beholden to Persian techniques, especially in the sixteenth century.
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