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Subject: Indian miniatures

Indian miniatures

From: Mike Wheeler <mikew>
Date: Wednesday, June 28, 2000
Rebecca Cameron <rcameron [at] nms__ac__uk> writes

>I recently attended the Institute of Paper Conservation seminar on
>Toning Materials for Conservation in London. One of the speakers (a
>private conservator based in London) mentioned that in her
>experience collectors of Indian miniatures favoured a very
>non-interventive approach to their treatment. This meant that while
>a disfigured European or Far Eastern print or watercolour would
>quite likely have infills and media losses toned or retouched to
>restore aesthetic qualities, an Indian painting would not.

I have also found that there is a slightly different approach by
curators with regard to the degree of retouching or inpainting
carried out on Indian miniatures in museum collections. I am less
familiar with the attitudes of collectors.

I think there are several reasons for this: Firstly, that this does
depend on the quality of the paintings themselves and whether they
were conceived as single sheet paintings or form part of a series of
illuminations in an illustrated book.  Clearly, when a painting
forms part of a sequence of pictures and text, it is important that
any interventive work undertaken will not alter the appearance of
the image to the extent that it appears to be radically different
from the other illuminations. In such instances conservation work is
usually confined to removal of unsightly tapes and repairs and then
concentrating on making the folios structurally sound as well as
consolidating any loose or flaking pigment. Evidence of original
binding strips and guard strips are likewise left in position. This
can be especially important when the paintings are displayed as
single sheet paintings and are no longer in a bound format.

My feeling is that the difference in attitude to the treatment of
Indian miniatures (especially Mughal and Persian miniatures) often
stems from the fact that miniatures may be regarded as much as
important historical documents as well as works of art. Any
alterations to composition and areas of repainting may give valuable
clues concerning the authenticity of these documents and as such are
often as interesting as the original images themselves.

At the V&A the treatment given to Indian miniatures does vary
somewhat depending on the type of painting treated and in which area
the damage has occurred. Frequently damage has occurred to the
decorative borders which surround the image. These will often be
repaired with appropriate Indian papers and then inpainted to match
the background colour of the borders. If a repair extends into the
image area, this would normally be toned to an appropriate shade,
but not necessarily fully retouched. In most cases work carried out
on the borders is very beneficial in the overall integration of the
image within without having to resort to any invention.

Repainting and cosmetic retouching has been carried out in some
cases on Indian miniatures in the past, especially by artists in
India. Sometimes this may be to disguise flaking paint, but also
occasionally it may be to respond to changing fashions in taste by
the owners of the paintings themselves. It is highly possible that
an artist might be asked to alter his own work at a later date by
the person who commissioned the work in the first place. Similarly,
there are some sad examples of extensive repainting of certain areas
by other less skilled hands. There is still a strong tradition of
restoration amongst painters of miniatures in India, some of which
may be of exceptionally fine quality.

Occasionally faces may have been repainted or positions of figures
altered. Infra-red photography is useful in seeing such alterations.
There are also cases in which erasure of faces have been carried
out. This is the case with the Hamzanama--an unusual series of
Mughal  paintings on cloth in the V&A collection dating from the
16th century. In this instance some of the faces in the paintings
were abraded and then painted over during periods of religious
fervour when depictions of animals and humans in manuscripts were
thought to be contrary to the principles of Islam. Obviously such
defacement, which may have been carried out shortly after the
manuscripts completion, is part of the history of such an object and
should not be removed or disguised.

It is difficult to tell how long ago remounting has occurred of some
paintings in the collection of the V&A. Mounting techniques
involving aqueous adhesives such as starch or animal glue present
considerable risks to such thickly painted images. However,
important paintings may have been remounted several times during
their lifetimes.

I would be interested to hear if there are any written records (pre
20th Century) of miniature painters in India recording restoration
or remounting work which they have done on paintings, or if there
are records of specific studios specialising in restoration.

Mike Wheeler,
Paper Conservation,
Victoria and Albert Museum,
London SW7 2RL.

                  Conservation DistList Instance 14:2
                  Distributed: Thursday, June 29, 2000
                        Message Id: cdl-14-2-003
Received on Wednesday, 28 June, 2000

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