Jain 17th-Century Devotional Pictures

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This pair of exquisite, intensely colourful 17th-century paintings are associated with the Indian religion of Jainism. In medieval India, Jain ascetics and scholars wrote thousands of manuscripts (originally on palm leaves, and then later on paper) related to their sacred text, and many of these are accompanied by colourful miniature paintings. Both of our pictures show seated tirthankaras, flanked by devotees. In Jainism tirthankaras (the name comes from the Sanskrit for ‘ford-maker’) are spiritual teachers who have succeeded in crossing over life’s stream of rebirths, and have made a path for others to follow. Traditionally, each tirthankara can be individually identified by their skin colour, and the emblems that they are associated with: here an elephant and a lotus flower.

Over the centuries, Jain painting has influenced many other branches of Indian art. What is noticeable in our examples is the intensity of the colours that are used, and their striking combinations: in Jain art the colours were made especially from vegetables, from minerals, and even from gold and silver.