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Museum Displays Colorful Array Of Miniature Indian Paintings

Posted September 22, 1999

Photo: Painting

An exhibition of exquisite Indian miniature paintings dating from the 15th to early 20th centuries is being presented by the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

"Deities, Courtiers, and Lovers: Indian Paintings from the Jean and Francis Marshall Collection" opened Sept. 15, and features highlights from the Marshall Collection, donated to the museum in Sept. 1998. Comprising more than a hundred works, the exhibition presents a wide range of styles and periods, including exceptional examples of painting from the Mughal dynasty, which ruled much of Northern India from the 16th through mid 19th century.

Also featured are examples of virtually all the painting styles of the small Rajput kingdoms, which existed outside of the Mughal empire.

These delicate images, most of them no larger than six inches across, depict gods, royalty and episodes from mythical stories and romantic sagas, as well as secular portraits, paintings of animals and plants, and scenes of day-to-day life.

"Deities, Courtiers, and Lovers: Indian Paintings from the Jean and Francis Marshall Collection" is organized around a series of themes that includes Indian deities, portraiture and images of romantic love.

The section devoted to Indian gods and goddesses includes a number of devotional images, rendered in vivid colors and sometimes with fine detailing in gold, that were used for individual worship. In some paintings, the gods appear alone, in others, as family groups surrounded by their consorts and children.

Easily identified among the Indian deities and mythological heroes is the figure of Krishna, one of the ten incarnations of the Indian god Vishnu. The popular Krishna is typically painted blue, and in this exhibition, appears in a variety of works, including a wedding scene, and with a group of gopis, or female cowherds.

Images of romantic love featured in the exhibition. These images differ from the erotic subject matter found in many Indian tantric traditions, depicting instead idyllic scenes of courtly love. The theme of lovers separated is particularly popular in Indian poetry, and in many of these images lovers not only appear in pairs but are also depicted alone.

The exhibition also includes a small but complete early 15th century loose-leaf manuscript. This manuscript has a horizontal format that relates back to the earliest books made in India, which were originally rendered on palm leaves.

Also included in this exhibition is a series of drawings that vividly reveals the techniques used by artists to make their paintings.

Often artists would begin by copying portions of earlier works.

An outline would be traced on paper, then transferred to a new sheet using carbon powder dusted through pin pricks made along the tracing's outline. The artist would then elaborate upon this drawing, adding new details and original elements.

The painting was completed with fine brushes and pigments of ground vegetable matter or minerals in a gum base, built up in layers and burnished on the reverse side to bind the surface.

Guided tours of the exhibition will be offered by graduate students at 12:15 p.m. on Thursdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays.

The exhibition runs through Nov. 28.


September 22 - 28, 1999 (Volume 28, Number 7)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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