Indian art covers a variety of art forms, styles and traditions that have been developed in the Indian subcontinent from the 3rd millennium BCE to the present day. It is often classified into several periods, each of which reflects specific cultural and artistic developments. Nevertheless, Indian art as a whole has managed to retain a continuity with the most ancient traditions which over the centuries became a unique fusion of a variety of traditions and influences from outside, giving artworks from the Indian subcontinent a character of its own.
Painting has a long tradition in the Indian subcontinent and is one of the oldest art forms in India, even extending to intricate nail art. The earliest examples are cave paintings and petroglyphs which date to prehistoric times. The finest examples, however, date from the so-called Gandhara and Amaravati periods (c. 7th century BCE to 1st century BCE) when cave art was given a new incentive by Buddhism. It were Buddhist rock-cut temples and later free-standing temples that represent the finest examples of early Indian monumental architecture as well as the finest examples of historical Indian painting. And it were Buddhist frescoes that inspired the later Indian painting as they greatly influenced those produced by the Hindus and Jains.
Mughal Miniature Painting
The rise of the Mughal Empire in the 16th century also gave rise to Mughal miniature painting, a unique combination of the existing miniature tradition and Persian miniature painting. It reflected a greater tension towards realism, especially in portrait painting and had a major influence on later developments in both miniature painting and painting as a whole. The period after the collapse of the Mughal Empire in the early 18th century saw the rise of a variety regional styles, while increased contact with the West and especially the British Empire through the British East India Company from the 17th century onwards led to a whole new style known as the Company painting – a sort of a hybrid of Indian and European styles.
Just like Indian painting, Indian sculpture was influenced greatly by religious and political developments. The earliest examples of Indian sculpture is the early Buddhist rock-cut art which was to a great extent also adopted by Hindu artists. The finest examples of early sculptures that weren’t a part of architecture date to the so-called Chola period (3rd century BCE - 13th century CE) during which Indian sculpture also spread outside India as the Chola dynasty also controlled parts of what are today Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Maldives and Singapore.
Indian Art after the Mid-20th century
Immediately after India became independent from Britain in 1957, a group of artists founded the Progressive Artist’s Group which was dissolved within less than a decade. The Group’s ideas, however, had a major influence on later Indian artists who followed the traditional Indian art styles and techniques as well as artists who took radically new ways to express themselves.