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Pictorial Narratives – Time and Tales Essay

Art, paintings, images, sculptures serve to be an immortal representation of the lifestyles of the era and the region from which they originate. They are like windows, enabling us to take a peek into the representational imagery which is in relation to the religious doctrines, rituals, ceremonies as well as the prevalent social customs. These pieces of art preserve and document what was once there, and become an important historic relic as time passes. Art focuses our attention even on studying the iconography and symbolism of the era they depict.

It becomes pivotal in comparing the present day iconography and symbolisms to those of the yester years as well as to know the roots of the same. Most importantly, paintings narrate events, stories and lore which are then smoothly passed on from generation to generation. For instance, the pictorial storytelling at sites such as the Stupa at Sanchi, the Ajanta and Ellora caves, the Mogao caves at Dunhuanga demonstrate clearly how they are integral to the religious trends followed there.

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Along similar lines, studies have highlighted how the pictorial inscriptions on the early Chinese tombs, shrines and monuments function as a requisite for the social purposes as well as religious rituals. 2 This article too, looks at some of the paintings coming from the yester eons, each speaking to the viewer about certain events or incidents, depicting the passage of time in them as well. Original Image: Unknown workshop, possibly Malwa, 1425-50, Published: Goswamy- A Jainesque Sultanate Shahnama (1988), Opaque watercolor and ink on paper.

Picture Credits: Guy John, Britschgi Jorrit, Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India, 1100-1900, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011) p. 31. This original painting is taken from the pages of a Shahanama manuscript (the famous Islamic Epic novels: The Shahnama (book of kings) of Firdawsi. ) The original manuscript was bound as a single codex format volume comprising of 350 pages of Persian text, 66 of which are illustrated. 3 The painting here narrates the story of the tragic death of a Prince name Siyavas4.

While resting in his bed chambers with his wife, the Prince is dragged out of his abode while his helpless wife gapes in horror. The Prince is taken outside and taken advantage of his ammunition less state to kill him. This painting becomes a pictorial narrative, as in a single picture frame, two simultaneous instances are depicted vividly. The change in the backdrop as well as the scenery depicts the continuity of the narrative within the single frame.

When inside the bed chambers, the painting of the pavilion which changes into a scenery having trees in the background depict the journey of the Prince as he helplessly fought his way from life to death. 5 Also, the figures and the positions of the Prince and that of the soldier who is killing him are repeated in the picture. Since there cannot be a particular person present in two different areas at once; the scene clearly indicates that it is a continuous story narration which follows the movements of the characters.

The other important point which makes the story depicted in the picture clearer to the viewer is the character differentiation. Though the styles of drawing the eyes, the eyebrows, the nose and other facial features is alike, it is evident from the uniform, from the ornamented horse and the jeweled quiver of arrows that the one who is doing the killing is the soldier in the army. Similarly considering the grand pavilion and night clothes, it is evident that a higher member of the royal family is resting in his resting chambers when the dramatic attack might have happened.

This and the use of close strokes and very closely spaced dots upon the uniform of the soldier as well as upon the pavilion tells us more about the type of very clustered designs on the Royal garments were prevalent in the Iranian Sultanate. As for the painting style of the localized anonymous artist; the painting depicts a clear juxtaposition of the Indian and the Iranian styles of painting. The uniform of the soldier is that of an Iranian while the large canopy of the pavilion and the artistic style of drawing the trees is a clear reflection of Indian art6.

Talking about the dress of the Prince’s wife- Farangish, the type of the dress she is seen to be wearing in the picture is unknown to any Iranian dressing styles. She drapes a loose duppatta (a diaphanous shawl) rather than the usual Iranian tight fitting choli7. Apart from that, the use of the intense red color for the soil in the background also indicates that the artist’s origins might be Indian. 8 The artist is thus revealed to be having Indian origins, most probably trained in the western-Indian style paintings in close relation to the Jain and Hindu manuscript painting. Such so as to get him to illustrate the famous Iranian epic, the Shahnama of Firdawsi, the catalyst must have been a commission from a Muslim Patron.

Considering the Patron went as far as to get a localized Indian artist to draw an Iranian epic, he must probably be a local Sultanate well versed in Persian literature. He probably had access to the classic styles of Iranian art; for the Indian artist to get the provision of the visual modes of Iranian style painting, considering his unfamiliarity with them. 0 Pictorial narratives portraying a story into a series of continuous paintings where all the scenes are along a common base line also appear in the early caves at Dunhuang. 11 The arrangement of scenes of a painting into long, horizontal sections are associated with the influence of the hand scroll format of the Chinese.

For example, Jin Weinuo states that multiple, linked scenes organized into horizontal registers obviously show the influence of Chinese hand scroll painting and are a sign of the sinicization of Buddhist art. 2 According to this explanation, the arrangement of successive scenes of a painting in a linear sequence are solely a Chinese preference and the early caves at Dunhuang are hence characterized as Chinese, looking at the characteristics of the cave paintings representing the hand scroll format therein. 13 The surface of a hand scroll is continuous and even if it is divided into separate pages for the purpose of stacking; it doesn’t hamper the direction or flow of the story. 4 In other words if the composition of a particular picture is based on the format of the hand scroll, the viewer expects the scenes in each register to proceed in the same direction. Original Picture: Deer King jataka, Dunhuang cave 257, west wall, Northern Wei period, late fifth century.

After Tonkd Bakukd kutsu, vol. 1, p. 44. Picture credits: Murray Julia, Archives of Asian Art, Buddhism and Early Narrative Illustration in China, (University of Hawaii Press for the Asia Society, 1995), vol. 8, p. 25 http://www. jstor. org/stable/20111252 Accessed date: June 12, 2015. One such illustration of a Jataka tale, “The Deer King (Rum)Jataka”in cave 257 is an example of a continuous narrative as well; however it is in a format which is different from the usual hand scroll format15.

The painting is so composed that the characters and their actions happening in the same region and environment are sketched together, rather than following the pattern of the story sequentially. 6 Hence, the compositional logic of this painting is different, though the episodes are depicted linearly one after the another, along the length of the wall, the scenes are not read in the linear direction in which they are depicted. The narrative goes like this: A virtuous Deer saves a man from drowning in the forest. His life saved, he man is filled with gratitude towards the Deer and falls at its feet for expressing the same. In the events which follow, the Queen dreams of the marvelous Deer and desires to posses it.

She begs the king with her request. The king then puts a word out to his kingdom promising a reward for the Deer. Overcome by greed, the man who was initially rescued by the Deer now leads a hunting trepidation along with the king and his men. That rescued man divulges the whereabouts of the Deer for the reward; however his body suddenly gets covered in scabs as a heavenly punishment for his betrayal. However as soon as the king learns that the Deer actually rescued the man’s life before; he orders for it to be protected.

The first frame in this linear picture depicts the scene in the forest where the Deer rescues the drowning man. This scene progresses from the leftmost position towards the centre of the painting. However, the events which happen in the palace, where the Queen desires to posses the Deer and the king’s hunting party sets off for it progresses from the rightmost position to the centre of the painting. Thus the narrative ends towards the centre of the painting, where the incidents to the left of the central finale happen earlier than those to the right of the central finale.

In other words, some scenes move from left to right while others move from right to left to end near the centre of the whole composition. The composition is very unusual to be a hand scroll. However, this arrangement separates the events taking place in the wilderness as well as in the worldly context of the palace. Thus the composition creates a difference not only in the geographical elements of the spaces where the story takes place, but also in the morals significantly attached to the two parts of the story.

Hence, even though the pictorial narrative of the Deer King Jataka resembles the hand scrolls in appearance, the composition and the depiction of the narrative does not fit within the boundaries of the hand scroll conventions. 18 Also the presence of the same characters in the story line at different positions at the same time shows the continuous aspect of the narrative depicted in the painting. The passage of time is also inevitably depicted by the journeys which the character undertakes from the wilderness to the palace and vice versa.

It is also the journey of the morals as they are subjected to change as the environment around the person chang The Chinese style of painting is very evident with the classical roof tops (along with their curved ends) of the palace building. The wilderness is characterized by the presence of conical shrubs repeated along its entire length. Thus both of the paintings showcase a continuous narrative. The frames do not stop the flow of the narrative by limiting it to the size or the general norms of the canvas.

These paintings make time stop and depict the different happenings going on about at the same time simultaneously so as to complete the narrative without any unnecessary breaks or stops. Time here is a tool which is played along with. Chronological order, flashbacks, just showing important elements instead of showing the whole time lapse, change of scenery to depict journeys or travels, following the story with the changing positions of the same characters all along the length of pictorial narrative are some of the ways in which the passage of time is depicted in these paintings.


1. Julia Murray. Archives of Asian Art, Buddhism and Early Narrative Illustration in China. (University of Hawaii Press for the Asia Society, 1995), vol. 48. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20111252 Accessed date: June 12, 2015.

2. John Guy, Jorrit Britschgi. Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India, 1100-1900. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011)

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Pictorial Narratives - Time and Tales Essay
Art, paintings, images, sculptures serve to be an immortal representation of the lifestyles of the era and the region from which they originate. They are like windows, enabling us to take a peek into the representational imagery which is in relation to the religious doctrines, rituals, ceremonies as well as the prevalent social customs. These pieces of art preserve and document what was once there, and become an important historic relic as time passes. Art focuses our attention even on studying
2021-07-12 23:55:49
Pictorial Narratives - Time and Tales Essay
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