Hindu and Muslim Art of India
The paintings, textiles, and objects in this exhibition range from the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries, a time when two traditions--one indigenous, the other foreign--maintained a complex and often contradictory relationship in India. It was a period when Muslim dynasties exercised political control over most of the subcontinent, in the process promoting religion, culture, and languages at odds with native Hinduism. In strictly religious terms, the monotheism of Islam posed a direct challenge to the multiple gods of the Hindu pantheon, and these opposing beliefs fostered a separation that in large part persisted into the twentieth century. But outside of the religious sphere, political, social, and econimic considerations created points of contact that nurtured and often bound together these two systems of thought. With the visual arts, this repeated co-mingling of influences seldom allowed a strict diversion of traditions--the expected differences are accompanied by surprising affinities.
Perhaps most representative of Hindu art during this period was that produced for the Rajputs, the warrior caste which by the fifteenth century dominated much of northwestern India. Many of the Rajput courts supported schools of painting whose predominantly religious subjects were executed in bold, expressionistic styles that favored an inner reality to that of the visible world. Worship of Krishna, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, became extremely popular as a subject of Rajput painting and later even occasionally Mughal paintings.
WHile Hindu art, particularly painting, was primarily religious, Muslim art, with the exception of the copying and decoration of the Qur'an, was essentially secular in its outlook. As early as 711 CE, Islam had penetrated to India, but it was only from the thirteenth century on that a number of dynasties began to make their presence felt. Known as the Sultanate period (1199-1526), its paintings and objects maintained close ties with Iranian traditions in terms of ornamentation and palette. Despite some signs of assimilation, the relationship was essentially that of conqueror and conquered.
It was only with the advent in the 16th century of the Mughals (1526-1858), a Muslim Turkic dynasty from Central Asia, that a real empire as well as a synthesis between the two traditions was effected. Religious and social barriers were lowered with Mughal conquests of Rajput principalities, and the political alliances and tolerant policies of these years encouraged similar developments in the arts. Mughal ateliers combined Rajput, Safavid, Iranian, and pre-Mughal Sultanate influences into a new imperial style stressing naturalism, fineness of technique, portraiture and an intense sensitivity to visual reality. This style was disseminated by Mughal-trained artists hired by other courts who turned increasingly toward the Mughal example. Mughal techniques and motifs mingled with Rajput styles at varying rates, resulting in hybrids of finely wrought naturalism with bold pattern and color, and even Krishna begins to appear in Mughal dress.
Other artistic centers flourished during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to the south on the broad, high plateau known as the Deccan, where a group of wealthy Muslim kingdoms created a lyrical and often highly visionary style reinforced by continuing contacts with Iran and Turkey. The flat, rhythmic deisgn qualities and glowing colors of painting were often transferred to textiles, which also felt influences from Mughal works in the north and Hindu kingdoms in the south.