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Indian miniatures

Indian miniatures found in the British Library's Asia, Pacific and Africa collections date from the 16th to the mid-19th century.

Squirrels in a Plane Tree

Squirrels in a Plane Tree, by Abu'l Hasan, c.1605-06. Johnson Album 1.30. Copyright © The British Library Board

The majority of the Indian miniatures come from the collection of Richard Johnson, who was in India in the East India Company's service 1770-90. His collection was purchased by the Company for its Library in 1807.

The main body of this collection consists of 18th century Mughal paintings, including many portraits, and provincial Mughal paintings, especially from Lucknow, Hyderabad and Murshidabad. Sets of Ragamala paintings are a particular strength.

Johnson's collection also includes some Mughal masterpieces of the Akbar and Jahangir period, including the famous Squirrels in a Plane Tree by Abu'l Hasan, and some rare early Deccani paintings from Bijapur and Golconda. There are also some later Deccani, Rajasthani, and Central Indian miniatures, as well as a small number of Persian miniatures collected by Johnson in India. 1069 paintings, accessed by their Johnson Album number.

Miniatures acquired since the Johnson collection have been given accession numbers beginning 'Additional Oriental' (Add.Or.). This collection is mostly Mughal and provincial Mughal, and also includes some from the Deccan, Central India, Rajasthan, the Punjab Hills and Plains, and Persia. Outstanding here is the Dara Shikoh Album of Mughal paintings 1633-42, acquired in 1908. About 700 paintings, accessed by their Add. Or. number.

The Indian miniatures have been described in a catalogue by T. Falk and Mildred Archer (1981), and those from Persia by B.W. Robinson (1976), except for the most recent acquisitions.

A much larger collection of Indian miniatures is also to be found in the manuscripts in the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections, for which see the country or language pages relevant to your enquiry. They are viewed in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Those in manuscripts in Persian are mostly described in a catalogue by Norah Titley (1977), which also includes all the purely Persian miniatures. Those in manuscripts in Indian languages are to be included in a catalogue of paintings in Indian manuscripts in the British Library, under preparation.

Online catalogue


Prints, Drawings and Photographs Section
Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections
The British Library
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