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Miniature painting developed in India between the 16th and 18th centuries. Royal patronage ensured that this art form achieved considerable renown and several schools of miniature painting developed during this time. These small, carefully executed and intricately detailed illustrations were painted with pigments derived from natural materials like vegetables, minerals, precious stones and even gold and silver.

While some paintings were commissioned as illustrations for manuscripts, many were also created to depict the ragas of Indian classical music. These paintings are called Ragamala paintings. The new exhibition of Indian and Nepalese Ragamala paintings on view at the newly opened rotating Asian Gallery at the Norton Simon Museum is appropriately titled “Garland of Melodies.”

A Ragamala painting seeks to capture a particular emotion or an aspect of devotion that a specific raga evokes. Often, a poem elaborating on the theme accompanies the illustration. “A Ragamala painting thus embodies three forms of artistic expression—music, painting, and poetry,” explains Christine Knoke, the curator of the exhibition.

The Indian paintings showcase miniature styles mainly from Lucknow and Rajasthan, but also from a few other regions. The Jaipur, Mewar, Pahari, Deccan, and Mughal schools of painting are among those showcased in the exhibition. The paintings are carefully detailed and include wide borders decorated with gold floral designs.
The Nepalese paintings are very different in look and feel from their Indian counterparts. They are less detailed, more minimalist in style with flat backgrounds of solid colors. The bottom of each painting is decorated with a lotus petal motif while the figures are placed within an arched frame. The Nepalese paintings are from the Bhaktapur region, southeast of Kathmandu.

Drawn from the museum’s large collection of Asian art, some of these paintings are on view to the public for the very first time. The collection affords art-lovers a rare opportunity to view exceptional examples of a traditional art form that has diminished in prominence but not in artistic merit.

Through November 3 2008. Norton Simon Museum, 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Parking is free. $8, $4 seniors, free for Museum members, students with ID, and patrons 18 and under. (626) 449-6840, www.nortonsimon.org