From Persia to India: The Influences and Development of Mughal Miniature Painting

Indian miniature paintings have a long glorious history, with the earliest examples dating back to the 9th century. However, it wasn't until the establishment of the Mughal Empire in 1526 that miniature painting became a widely celebrated art form in India. 


The Mughal empire in India stretched from 1526 CE to 1857 CE, and this period witnessed a huge patronage in arts. This led to the creation of many beautiful Mughal miniature paintings of various themes, techniques and styles. The Mughal Empire was established by Babur, who came from what we now know as modern-day Uzbekistan. He defeated Ibrahim Lodi of the Delhi Sultanate in 1526 CE and took control of the capital. Babur was a descendant of Emperor Timur and had both Central Asian and Persian cultural influences during his upbringing. He had a great passion for art and literature, and his love of India is detailed in his memoir, the Baburnama (Verma 2016).  Babur began the tradition of patronage of arts in India, but he died shortly after and was succeeded by his son Humayun in 1530 CE. Humayun followed his father’s footsteps and increased the empire’s patronage to artists, as a result, the Mughal style of painting was born. The emperor had invited Persian artists Abdu Samad and Mir Sayyid Ali to his court to develop the royal atelier in India in Humayan's court and to train Indian artists in the style of miniature paintings' (Crill and Jariwala 2010). Today, we can see the direct influence of Persian art in Mughal miniature paintings. Eventually, this became a common practice in the emperor's court. Several artists were brought from Iran to India to work in Mughal courts. This allowed for further synthesis of the Indo-Persian style.


Emperor Humayun: Indian Miniature Paintings

Fig. 1 Emporor Humayun (Wikimedia)


Mughal Paintings are said to have been heavily influenced by the classic Persian miniature style. Not only were Persian literary themes common in Mughal paintings, but Persian words can also be seen in the border calligraphy. Upon closer inspection of Mughal miniature paintings, you'll notice that the borders are composed of evolving patterns that exhibit perfect geometric harmony. This was a direct influence of the Persian and Islamic art world, where such patterns and designs were frequently used to decorate buildings and other art forms. The use of geometric patterns in the borders of miniature paintings helps to create a sense of balance and order in the artwork. Interestingly, some of the finer details in the painting were even executed using a single hair from the brush. The Mughal miniature tradition typically involved up to three artists to complete a painting - one who determined the composition's outline, the second who painted, and the third who specialized in portraiture and illustrated faces.


Indian miniature painting of a vulture

Fig. 2 Indian miniature painting of a vulture (Wikimedia)


Persian art had a significant impact on the pigment used in Mughal miniature painting. One of the most recognizable features of Persian miniature paintings was the use of a bright and vibrant color palette. Typically, mineral-based pigments were used to achieve these bright hues, which would maintain their vibrancy when stored in optimal conditions. In India, pigments were made from various natural sources like minerals, natural dyes such as indigo, and iron oxide, which was used to create the classic red seen in many miniature paintings. The influence of Persian art on the pigment used in Mughal miniature paintings helped to create a distinctive style that combined the best of both worlds.


The process of creating pigments for Mughal miniature paintings was a laborious and time-consuming task that required skill and patience. These paintings were often adorned with vivid colours such as black, white, red, green, blue, and orange, and each colour had a symbolic meaning. Gold and silver leaf were also used to enhance the paintings and give them a special shine. Gold was particularly valued by Mughal emperors as it was believed to bring success and prosperity. It symbolized extravagance, prestige, sophistication, and superiority, much like in Persian culture (Welch 1987). The subjects of Mughal miniature paintings were diverse and ranged from depictions of war and political conquests to court scenes, secular texts, and portraits of important figures, blending Hindu, Persian, Islamic, and even European themes (Kossak 1997).


Ganesha miniature painting

Fig. 3 Ganesha miniature painting (Wikimedia) 


Although Mughal miniature paintings were heavily influenced by Persian miniature techniques such as extensive detailing, the use of colour, and Persian themes, they eventually became a distinct art form. The Mughal era was marked by great political and economic stability, and patronage of the arts flourished. Over time, Mughal miniature paintings evolved to become more realistic, incorporating Indian themes and stories from literature. Perhaps the most significant development was the shift from the flat, two-dimensional Persian style to a more three-dimensional style, thanks to the Indian-style brush that was used. All things considered, the Mughal school of miniature paintings owes a great deal to Persian art and culture, but it eventually developed its own unique identity and contributed significantly to the artistic heritage of India.



  • Crill, Rosemary, and Kapil Jariwala, eds. The Indian Portrait, 1560-1860. Mapin Publishing Pvt Ltd, 2010.
  • Fisher, Michael. A Short History of the Mughal Empire. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.
  • Hassan, Fatima Zahra. "Mughal and Persian Miniature Painting."
  • Kelley, Charles Fabens. "An Indo-Persian Miniature." Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago (1907-1951) 29, no. 3 (1935): 38-40.
  • Kossak, Steven. Indian court painting, 16th-19th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997.
  • Syed, Muzaffar H. History of Indian Nation: Medieval India. Vol. 2. KK Publications, 2022.
  • Verma, Som Prakash. The Illustrated Baburnama. Routledge India, 2016.
  • Welch, Stuart Cary. The Emperors' Album: Images of Mughal India. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987.



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