In an attempt to keep our content accurate and representative of evolving scholarship, we invite you to give feedback on any information in this article.

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.


    Rajasthani Manuscript Painting

    Map Academy

    Articles are written collaboratively by the EIA editors. More information on our team, their individual bios, and our approach to writing can be found on our About pages. We also welcome feedback and all articles include a bibliography (see below).

    Patronised by the Hindu Rajput courts of northwestern India, a number of regional schools of manuscript painting emerged, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, in and around present-day Rajasthan. Building on earlier traditions of Jain religious manuscripts in the region as well as Sultanate idioms of Islamic art, various medieval courts of Rajput dynasties absorbed influences of contemporary Mughal art and incorporated them into miniature paintings for Jain, Hindu as well as secular manuscripts. This constituted a shift from flat, angular images in a limited colour palette to finely detailed, naturalistic depictions using a range of subtle, earthy colours. Variously grouped as Rajasthani or Rajput miniature painting schools by scholars, regional schools such as the Kota, Bundi, Marwar, Kishangarh, Mewar and Jaipur schools emerged during this period, each with its distinctive character — but together instrumental in prolonging the Mughal miniature idiom even after the decline of the empire.

    Significant pictorial traditions had existed in the region from at least the eleventh century, in the form of illustrated Jain manuscripts made using palm leaves. Used as educational texts and ritual objects, these manuscripts were stored in bhandaras, or libraries. By the fifteenth century, secular and Hindu religious manuscripts also began to appear, including illustrated versions of the Gita Govinda, the Devi Mahatmya, the Panchatantra and the Rati Rahasya. Despite using paper, these manuscripts retained the narrow horizontal format of older palm-leaf manuscripts. The illustrations themselves are characteristic of the western Indian style of painting, featuring angular silhouettes, bold lines and earthy colours, such as ochre and olive, occasionally punctuated by bursts of vivid hues. While the faces of ordinary people are depicted in three-quarter profile, with the farther eye protruding, Hindu deities and nobility are shown in perfect profile with only one eye visible.

    By the mid-fifteenth century, the stylistic influence of Islamic court art from present-day Iran and Afghanistan percolated into western Indian schools through India’s early medieval Sultanate courts. Manuscripts from this period incorporated decorative borders as well as embellishments using silver, gold and lapis lazuli. An illustrated copy of the Hindu text Bhagavata Purana from this period also reflects the influence of Islamic codices — manuscripts which typically took a vertical format akin to the modern-day book — with images becoming independent of text and expanding in size, sometimes occupying the entire folio. In the sixteenth century, various renderings of the eponymous twelfth-century Sanskrit love poem gave rise to the Chaurapanchasika style, which embodied what scholars consider an early phase of the Rajasthani style.

    Rajput rulers also formed close alliances with the Mughal dynasty which gained centralised power in the Indian subcontinent from the mid-sixteenth century onwards. Alongside other social and cultural exchanges between the Mughal and Rajput courts, the influence of Mughal miniature painting became increasingly pronounced in the manuscript traditions in Rajasthan and beyond. The kitabkhanas — libraries and book-making workshops — of the Mughal court invited artists from all over the empire, and beyond. Among them were a large number of specialists, including calligraphers, colourists and painters, working together in a highly organised environment to produce lavish manuscripts. In the Rajput context, however, manuscript-painting teams often simply comprised the extended families of painters, who were sometimes present at court and at other times worked from their family homes in the small towns and cities of the kingdom. At the same time, the smaller Rajput principalities in central India also carried forward the longstanding traditions of the Malwa school of painting, after the fall of the Malwa kingdom’s capital Mandu in the second half of the sixteenth century. These diverse influences were amalgamated in various ways to give birth to a series of regional styles. 

    In the sixteenth century, the Mughal techniques of naturalism in landscape and facial features, spatial depth and perspective, were absorbed to differing degrees in these courts and co-existed alongside their own traditional styles. The themes of the manuscripts from this period were diverse, encompassing Hindu religious texts such as the Bhagavata Purana, epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, as well as legends and stories about local folk heroes. As Vaishnavism took hold of sixteenth-century Rajasthan, works about the life of Krishna, in particular, were produced across the various royal courts. Poetical works such as Rasamanjari, Rasikapriya were also commissioned, as were devotional works like the Gitagovinda and Sur Sagar

    Each Rajput principality had its own legacy and style of manuscript painting, with patronage and production not always limited to royal workshops. In Marwar, for example, a Meghaduta manuscript was commissioned by lay patrons in 1699, showing stylistic similarities with a traditional Ragamala series dating back to 1624. At Mewar, which hosted another prominent school of miniature painting, the earliest manuscript, Chawand Ragamala, dates back to 1605. It is one of several notable works produced by the court’s workshop during the first half of the seventeenth century, including the Mewar Ramayana (1649–53). 

    In the seventeenth century, the style of the Bikaner school continued to parallel the Mughal artistic style of the time. However, by the second half of the century, the Mughal workshops suffered a decline and Bikaner’s local painting tradition re-emerged and gained prominence, as evidenced by a Rasikapriya series and Bhagavata Purana dating to this time. It was during the same period that manuscript painting was also flourishing in the workshops or chitrashalas of Bundi and Kota. The former is notable for its use of elements from both the Mughal and the Deccani schools. The latter, after its separation from Bundi, established its own painting tradition, which included detailed depictions of landscapes and hunting scenes in addition to devotional works. 

    The apogee of the Kishangarh school, meanwhile, came in the first half of the eighteenth century, characterised by devotional paintings of Radha and Krishna. These paintings, primarily executed by the master artist Nihal Chand, were based on the Bhagavata Purana, the Gita Govinda and the poems of Savant Singh, then-ruler of Kishangarh. In the court of Amber at Jaipur as well, court painting gained prominence in the eighteenth century, with several manuscripts produced under the royal patronage of its ruler Sawai Pratap Singh, including a Ragamala series and a Rasikapriya series.

    Like many manuscript painting traditions in the subcontinent, the administrative and economic policies of the British government in the nineteenth century led to a decline in patronage as the wealth of most of the smaller courts was reduced. Coupled with the arrival of photography, which attracted the interest of royal patrons, and new avenues of employment for artists, such as Company paintings, Rajasthani and other miniature painting traditions faded away by the late nineteenth century.





    Beach, Milo Cleveland. Mughal and Rajput Painting. The New Cambridge History of India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. 

    Behrendt, Kurt. “Poetic Allusions in the Rajput and Pahari Painting of India.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Essays. October 2016. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed March 22, 2024.

    Chakraverty, Anjan. Indian Miniature Painting. New Delhi: Roli Books, 2005.

    Desai, Vishakha N. “Painting and Politics in Seventeenth-Century North India: Mewar, Bikaner, and the Mughal Court.” Art Journal 49, no. 4 (1990): 370–78.

    Glynn, Catherine. “Evidence of Royal Painting for the Amber Court.” Artibus Asiae 56, no. 1/2 (1996): 67–93.

    Goetz, Herman. “General Surveys of Schools of Rajasthani Painting: Marwar (with some paintings from Jodhpur in the collection of Kumar Sangram Singh).” Marg 11, no. 2 (March 1958): 42–49. 

    Guy, John, and Jorrit Britschgi. Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India, 1100-1900. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. Published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same title presented at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, September 28, 2011–January 8, 2012.

    Sharma, O. P. Indian Miniature Painting. Brussels: Bibliothèque Royale Albert 1er, 1974. 

    Topsfield, Andrew. “Court Painting at Udaipur: Art under the Patronage of the Maharanas of Mewar.” Supplementum 44. Zurich: Artibus Asiae Publishers, 2002.

    Related Content