Like a book, a miniature is meant to be taken in hand and read close. The eye must linger over the surface, take in the luminous colours, absorb the subtlety and the details, discern the light touch guiding the brush strokes. From this hypnotic engagement might emerge, in the mind of the connoisseur, a nebulous matrix of thoughts and images—delightful guesses and second-guesses at what might have animated the painter who was burning his attention and craft onto those few square centimetres some centuries ago.
It’s the gaze of the aesthete-scholar, affectionate yet discriminating—the kind that B.N. Goswamy, pre-eminent scholar of Indian miniature painting and a leading art historian, has brought to bear on illuminated Jain manuscripts, and miniatures of the Rajasthani, Mughal, Pahari and Deccan styles, and Company School paintings, together spanning some thousand years. Through the telescope of art history, he reconstructs lineages of obscure artists, assigns them names, restores their identities and draws on family ties as the basis of style, for techniques in arts such as painting at the highest level were guarded and handed down often only through close filial lines.