History of Deccan School of Painting

Deccan school of painting was effective in southern part of India in medieval age and later years. Adil Shahi, Nizam Shahi, and Qutub Shahi rulers were the patrons in the development of Deccan School of painting.

A lot of artists flourished during the rule of Ibrahim Adil Shah (II) (1580-1627), who was a great lover of painting. It is evident from the availability of numerous portraits of Ibrahim Adil Shah in different museums of the world. Deccan painting can be illustrated as a perceptive and an extremely included mix of original and overseas style of art.

History of Deccan School of Painting

The miniature painting method, which increased at first in the Bahmani court of Bahmani sultanate and later in the courts of Ahmadnagar, Bijapur, Bidar  Berrar and Golkonda is generally well-known as the Deccan school of Painting. The Nujum-ul-ulum of 1570 is the first dated manuscript, appears to be a producer of Bijapur, which continued to be one of the major centers of the style. Deccan art also had its consequence on the expansion of miniature painting in the Hindu courts of Rajasthan and central India.

The art of painting carried with it the influence and essence of the culture it represented. The art of painting widespread in other parts of India were very much influenced. Ibrahim Adil Shah was shown as a musician in few other paintings available in the Naprstck Museum, Prague, and the Goenka Collection, Kolkata. 

Although the Mughal School of painting and the Deccan School of painting developed the naturalism due to European influence, yet there was a difference between the two. The Mughal school paintings were more dazzling in technique whereas the Bijapur or the Deccan School of painting represented more naturalism due to imaginative composition and poetic content.

Features of Deccan School of Painting

Deccan School of Painting’s style is a perceptive, highly integrated merge of indigenous and foreign art forms. The Vijayanagar painting’s similarity is seen in the lengthened figures while the floral backgrounds with a general use of landscape shows Persian influence. Deccan colors are rich and luminous, and much use is made of gold and white. For the most part of the color of Deccan paintings are Islamic, Turkish and Persian tradition particularly the arabesques, but those are surmounting by a pure Deccan part of undergrowth.

These paintings have a distinct quality of their own in the very unconventional composition. The rich landscape mysterious atmosphere, gem -like coloring, lavish use of gold , exquisite finish, profusion of large plants, flowering Shrubs  and typical Dakkhani  castles in the background and above all, the sweeping decorative rhythm that is of Bijapur origin are quite visible in them.

In the prince of wales Museum of Mumbai , the painting gallery has some typical examples of Decani paintings, which have pale green, mineral-colored backgrounds with figures placed squarely in the foreground. There are few other collections of Decani paintings from Bundi, of the 18th century available here in this gallery, which deals with the theme of love. Another painting of the gallery depicts a lady looking in a Mirror (Bundi, 18th century).

In this one, the artist has created a courtyard with a lush garden in the background and a pond of lotuses in the foreground that blossom in reflection of the glory of the young girl, or lover. One more painting of Bundi in 17th century depicts a ‘Nayika’ in agony painting in another mood. The young lady is in agony, suffering the torment of separation from her lover.

Notable Works of Decani School of Painting

The Deccan School of Painting has done some great and wonderful works which are very significant and they are as follows:

Ahmednagar Paintings: This school was patronized by Hussain Nizam Shah of Ahmad Nagar. The important manuscript is ‘Tarif-i-Hussain Shahi’.

Bijapur Paintings: Bijapur was second Mughal capital at Delhi as a hub for artistic creativeness. Among the initial known Bijapur paintings are contained in a copy of a Persian manuscript on astronomy, titled ‘Nujum al-Ulum’. Probably created for Sultan”Ali Adil Shah -I, the subjects are illustrated in an unprocessed but extremely animated style.

Golconda Paintings: The initial paintings in Golconda under Qutb Shahi aid are attributable to the sovereignty of Ibrahim Qutab Shah. These paintings show the dancing girls entertaining the important guests. The Kulliyat of Sultan Muhammad quli qutub Shah from about 1590 is one of the primary illustrated manuscripts under majestic support at Golconda to combine effectively Indo-Persianate artistic modes.

Hyderabad Styles: A total set of 36 Ragmala paintings called the “Johnson Ragamala” is considered by some to be the finest and most sophisticated example of Hyderabadi painting.

Deccan painting is the form of Indian Miniature Painting produced in the Deccan region of Central India, in the various Muslim capitals of the Deccan Sultanates Deccan Sultanates that emerged from the break-up of the Brahmani Sultanates by 1520. These were Bijapur, Golconda Ahmamad Nagar, Bidar and Berar. The main period was between the late 16th century and the mid-17th, with something of a revival in the mid-18th century, by then centered on Hyderabad.

The high quality of early miniatures suggests that there was already a local tradition, probably at least partly of murals, in which artists had trained. Compared to the early Mughal Painting evolving at the same time to the north, Deccan painting exceeds in “the brilliance of their color, the sophistication and artistry of their composition, and a general air of decadent luxury”. Deccan painting was less interested in realism than the Mughals, instead pursuing “a more inward journey, with mystic and fantastic overtones”.

Other differences include painting faces, not very expertly modeled, in three-quarter view, rather than mostly in profile in the Mughal style, and “tall women with small heads” wearing saris. There are many royal portraits, and although they lack the precise likenesses of their Mughal equivalents, they often convey a vivid impression of their rather bulky subjects. Buildings are depicted as “totally flat screen-like panels”.

The paintings are relatively rare, and few are signed or dated, or indeed inscribed at all; very few names are known compared to the generally well-documented Mughal imperial workshops.

The Muslim rulers of the Deccan, many of them Shia, had their own links with the Persianate world, rather than having to rely on those of the Imperial Mughal Court. In the same way, contacts through the large textile trade, and nearby Goa, led to some identifiable borrowings from European images, which perhaps had a more general stylistic influence as well. There also appear to have been Hindu Empire artists who moved north to the Deccan after the sultans combined to heavily defeat the Vijayanagar Empire in 1565, and sack the capital, Hampi.

Early Period to 1600

Some of the earliest surviving paintings are the twelve illustrations of a manuscript Tarif-i-Hussain Shahi, an epic-style poem on the life of Sultan Husain Nizam Shah-I of Ahmednagar, leader of the Deccan alliance that defeated the Vijayanagar Empire. The manuscript was commissioned by his Mandal Pune, widow when she was acting as regent c. 1565–69, and is now in the Bharat Itihas Sansodhak Mandal Pune, six of the paintings, most unusually for India, show the queen prominently beside her husband, and another a traditional female-centered scene. Most of the portraits of the queen were scratched out or overprinted after her son Murtaza Nizam Shah – I rebelled and imprisoned her in 1569.

There are 400–800 illustrations in the Bijapur manuscript Nujum- ul- ulum (Stars of Science), an astronomical and astrological encyclopedia of 1570–71, in the Chester Breathy Library, Dublin.

Ragmala paintings sets illustrating (by evoking their moods) the various raga musical forms, appear to have been an innovation of the Deccan. There is a large dispersed group, probably originally forming several sets, of late sixteenth-century Ragamala paintings, which has been much discussed.

They are similar in style, but by several different hands and with a considerable range of quality, with the best “among the most beautiful Indian paintings from any period”. They were probably made for Hindu patrons, and may have been produced in a provincial center well away from the capitals. There were a number of Hindu rajas in the northern Deccan, feudatories of the sultans.

By about 1590 styles at the courts of Ahmadnagar and Bijapur had reached a brilliant maturity, the “decadent fancifulness” of the Lady with the Myna Bird and the young Ibrahim Adil Shah-II hawking, both illustrated below, are famous examples of Deccan distinctiveness.

Subject and Style

Besides the usual portraits and illustrations to literary works, there are sometimes illustrated chronicles, such as the Tuzuk – I Asafiya. A Deccan specialty (also sometimes found in other media, such as ivory) is the “composite animal” a large animal made up of many smaller images of other animals. A composite Buraq and an elephant are illustrated here. Rulers are often given large haloes, following Mughal precedent. Servants fan their masters or mistresses with cloths, rather than the chowkis or peacock-feather fans seen elsewhere, and swords usually have the straight Deccan form.

Elephants were very popular in both the life and art of the Deccan courts, and artists reveled in depicting them behaving badly during the periodic Must hormonal overloads affecting bull elephants. There was also a genre of drawings with some color using marbling effects in the bodies of horses and elephants. Apart from elephants, studies of animals or plants were less common in the Deccan than in Mughal painting, and when they occur, they often have a less realistic style, with a “fanciful palette of intense colors”.

Unusually for India, there was a significant imported population of Africans in the Deccan, a few of whom rose to high positions as soldiers, ministers or courtiers. Malik Ambar of Ahmednagar an Ikhlas khan of Bijapur were the most famous of these; a number of portraits survive of both, as well as others of unidentified figures.

One of the most important patrons of the style was Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah – II of Bijapur (d. 1627), himself a very accomplished painter, as well as a musician and poet. He died the same year as Jahangir, the last Mughal emperor to be an enthusiastic patron of painting other than imperial portraits. The portrait from c. 1590 illustrated above, which comes from the same period as Akbar’s artists at the Mughal court were developing the Mughal portrait style, shows a confident but very different style. The extreme close-up view was to remain most unusual in Indian portraiture, and it has been suggested it was directly influenced by European prints, especially those of Lucas Cranach the Elder, with which it shares a number of features. 


The Mughal court was aware of the Deccan style, and some Deccan paintings, especially from Bijapur, were included in albums compiled by Akbar and Jahangir. Some Mughal painters adopted a quasi-Deccan style in the early 17th century, perhaps following instructions from their patrons. Ibrahim Adil Shah II married his daughter, rather reluctantly, to Prince Deniyal Mirza, son of Akbar, and the wedding gifts included volumes of paintings. Several Rajput princes were generals in the Mughal armies fighting in the Deccan, leading to Deccan influences on early Rajput Painting. In many cases decani painters probably migrated to the Rajput courts as their main patrons fell from power.


Deccan painting flourished in the late 16th and 17th centuries, but suffered as the Mughals gradually conquered the region, and had already largely adopted a sub-Mughal style by around 1650.Berar Sultanates  was absorbed by Ahmednagar by 1574, and Bidar Sultanates was taken over by Bijapur in 1619; their contributions to the style, whether before or after conquest, are rather uncertain. The city of Ahmad nagar itself was taken by the Mughals in 1600, after the death of the regent-princess Chand Bibi (often portrayed after her death), but part of the territory continued an embattled independence until 1636, with Paranda as the capital until 1610, then the new city  later renamed as Aurangabad.

The extinction in 1687 of the last two remaining sultanates of Bijapur and Golkonda, both ruled by the Qutub Shahi Dynasty, was a decisive blow. Most of both royal collections were destroyed in the conquest, which deprived painters remaining in the area of models to study.

A new “hybrid Rajasthani- Deccan school of painting” developed in Aurangabad, which became the Mughal capital of the Deccan. One dispersed ragamala set, and a Geet govinda  set in an identical style, were long regarded as Rajasthani  until another manuscript in the style emerged, which was inscribed to record that it was painted in Aurangabad in 1650 for a patron from Mewar in Rajasthan; probably the painters were originally from there too.

Mughal viceroys established a court at Hyderabad, but this did not become a center for miniatures until the next century, by then in a less distinctive late Mughal or post-Mughal style. By now paintings were not just produced for a small court circle, and markets had developed for types including sets of Ragmala paintings, erotic subjects, and Hindu ones. Copies or imitations of old works such as royal portraits continued to be produced well into the 19th century

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