B N Goswamy is an excellent and lively writer who combines considerable erudition with an ability to spin stories. The Spirit of Indian Painting, reminiscent of Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects, presents 101 pictures produced in the Indian subcontinent over almost a millennium, introducing us to what he calls a ‘multi-layered world’. Most Indian paintings from this period are small and usually referred to as miniatures. Indeed, miniatures were the main form of pictorial art for much of India’s history. In the West we tend to worship oil paintings over other forms of art, but that is not a part of Indian tradition.
The book opens with a long introduction that discusses the history of Indian miniature painting, the paucity of written sources, depictions of time and space, attitudes towards portraits, the relationship between artists and patrons, and the lives and techniques of Goswamy’s chosen painters. The most interesting section concerns the Indian