Historiography of South Asian Art
- LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0010
- LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0010
Art has been produced in South Asia for approximately forty-five hundred years. Art history, however, is much more recent in South Asia. Although some historians consider various texts dating as early as the 3rd century CE to be art history and others have gleaned the writings of early travelers to South Asia for information on art, the earliest histories of South Asian art begin in fact during the colonial period. That is both because art history is intrinsically a European field of knowledge and because colonial authorities understood knowledge about South Asia, including its past, as a tool for power. The work was done largely by amateurs, self-trained British who had come to India as part of the colonial enterprise. Historical studies of South Asian art do not really begin until the early 1900s, and the earliest surveys date back to 1927. About the same time, Ludwig Bachhofer, a protégé of Heinrich Wolfflin, published his study of early Indian sculpture. Both did much to move the study of South Asian art from its roots in archaeology and textual studies to art history as it was then conceived. Whereas Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, the pioneering historian and philosopher of Indian art, did not teach and thus produce students, Bachhofer did, although more of his students went on to gain expertise in Chinese art than in South Asian art. The earliest full-time South Asia specialists in the United States, those working largely after World War II, came from other fields of art history, for example, medieval art in the case of Benjamin Rowland and Chinese art in the case of J. Leroy Davidson, and Stella Kramrisch, who had trained with Josef Strzygowski, the Polish Austrian art historian, came to the University of Pennsylvania. Their work, though quite different from one another, did much to shape the study of South Asian art in the United States and Europe. In South Asia the study of art remained heavily descriptive and often linked to studies in epigraphy and ancient history. On the Continent much of the work came from scholars who had been part of the colonial project either in India or in Southeast Asia. For example, Philippe Stern, who initially wrote on the art of Southeast Asia, trained a number of outstanding scholars during his years at the Musée Guimet, often following a close motif analysis. And Jean Philippe Vogel, though Belgian, had worked for the British in India. South Asian scholars who wrote on the monuments of the region were most often affiliated with museums or with the Archaeological Survey of India. As literature in the field of South Asian art history expanded, scholars began to stake out areas of specialization, sometimes following the model of European art history, that is, limiting specialization by geography and chronology. But three particular areas of writing on South Asian art developed rather distinctive scholarship. First, painting specialists tended toward connoisseurship as they sought to sort out the vast number of paintings in diverse collections and to create taxonomies for the understanding of painting production. Their scholarship was often presented in museum exhibitions, creating a rich repertoire of very important catalogues. Second, specialists in South Asia’s Islamic heritage sometimes had been trained in the field of Islamic art and so came to the study of South Asia as Islamicists rather than as South Asia specialists. Finally, the contemporary scene, once seen as derivative of European modern and contemporary art, has attracted some outstanding scholarship. In fact much of the very best work on South Asian art now focuses on the period from the arrival of the British and other colonizers to the early 21st century.
Until the late 20th century works covering large expanses of South Asian art were selective. Either they focused on a particular medium or they excluded important bodies of material. For example, the earliest survey, that of James Fergusson (Fergusson 1891, cited under European Discovery of South Asian Art), focuses exclusively on architecture and was part—a very large part—of his study of world architecture. Ernest Binfield Havell’s 1908 work (Havell 1908, cited under European Discovery of South Asian Art) focuses only on painting and sculpture, and in both cases, the studies cover Antiquity, not more recent material. Diez 1914 is one of several surveys this author wrote on Asian and Islamic art, probably the first to survey at least India’s older material. This was followed by Havell 1927 and Coomaraswamy 1927, which, like Diez 1914, omit significant material. Huntington and Huntington 1985 surveys South Asian art through the 13th century with a strong scholarly foundation. As the discipline of art history became more inclusive, especially after World War II, major series of books on the art of particular regions or periods included South Asia (Rowland 1970, Harle 1986, Dehejia 1997, and Mitter 2001).
Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish. History of Indian and Indonesian Art. London: Goldston, 1927.
This book includes chapters on Rajput painting and arts and crafts, but it entirely neglects Islamic art of South Asia and modern art. And the incorporation of Southeast Asian art into the realm of Indian art production—one chapter is titled “Farther India, Indonesia, and Ceylon”—represents a sort of cultural imperialism that persists in the early 21st century.
Dehejia, Vidya. Indian Art. London: Phaidon, 1997.
An excellent survey with very readable text and comprehensive coverage.
Diez, Ernst. Die Kunst Indiens. Handbuch der Kunstwissenschaft. Wildpark-Potsdam, Germany: Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft Athenaion, 1914.
Diez was a student of Josef Strzygowksi, who wrote the first reference work in German on the arts of India.
Harle, James. The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1986.
This is a significant expansion and rewritten version of Benjamin Rowland’s survey (Rowland 1970).
Havell, Ernest Binfield. A Handbook of Indian Art. London: Murray, 1927.
Presents a sympathetic view of the material, including Islamic architecture, but very spotty coverage. Text available online.
Huntington, Susan L., with John C. Huntington. The Art of Ancient India: Buddhist, Hindu, Jain. New York: Weatherhill, 1985.
The most scholarly among the surveys though covering South Asian art only through the 12th century.
Mitter, Partha. Indian Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Part of the Oxford History of Art series. Includes good coverage of modern and contemporary art.
Rowland, Benjamin. The Art and Architecture of India: Hindu, Buddhist, Jain. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1970.
Part of the Pelican History of Art series, this book excludes all Islamic art in South Asia but has an entire section titled “Indian Art in Ceylon and South-East Asia,” which implies that the art of Southeast Asia is little more than an extension of South Asian art, not an art with its own style, iconographies, and meanings.
- Activist and Socially Engaged Art
- Adornment, Dress, and African Arts of the Body
- Ancient Egyptian Art
- Ancient Pueblo (Anasazi) Art
- Angkor and Environs
- Art and Archaeology of the Bronze Age in China
- Art and Architecture in the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary
- Art and Propaganda
- Art of Medieval Iberia
- Art of the Crusader Period in the Levant
- Art of the Dogon
- Art of the Mamluks
- Art of the Plains Peoples
- Artemisia Gentileschi
- Arts of Senegambia
- Arts of the Pacific Islands
- Assyrian Art and Architecture
- Australian Aboriginal Art
- Aztec Empire, Art of the
- Babylonian Art and Architecture
- Bamana Arts and Mande Traditions
- Barbizon Painting
- Bartolomeo Ammannati
- Bernini, Gian Lorenzo
- Bohemia and Moravia, Renaissance and Rudolphine Art of
- Borromini, Francesco
- Brazilian Art and Architecture, Post-independence
- Burkina Art and Performance
- Byzantine Art and Architecture
- Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da
- Carracci, Annibale
- Chaco Canyon and Other Early Art in the North American Sou...
- Chicana/o Art
- Chimú Art and Architecture
- Colonial Art of New Granada (Colombia)
- Conceptual Art and Conceptualism
- Contemporary Art
- Courbet, Gustave
- Czech Modern and Contemporary Art
- Daumier, Honoré
- David, Jacques-Louis
- Delacroix, Eugène
- Design, Garden and Landscape
- Destruction in Art
- Dürer, Albrecht
- Early Christian Art
- Early Medieval Architecture in Western Europe
- Eighteenth-Century Europe
- Ephemeral Art and Performance in Africa
- Ethiopia, Art History of
- European Art, Historiography of
- European Medieval Art, Otherness in
- Eyck, Jan van
- Festivals in West Africa
- French Impressionism
- Gender and Art in the Middle Ages
- Gender and Art in the Renaissance
- Gender and Art in the 17th Century
- Giotto di Bondone
- Gothic Architecture
- Gothic Art in Italy
- Goya y Lucientes, Francisco José
- Great Zimbabwe and its Legacy
- Greek Art and Architecture
- Greenberg, Clement
- Géricault, Théodore
- Iconography in the Western World
- Installation Art
- Islamic Art and Architecture in North Africa and the Iberi...
- Japanese Architecture
- Japanese Ceramics
- Japanese Literati Painting and Calligraphy
- Jewish Art, Ancient
- Jewish Art, Medieval to Early Modern
- Jewish Art, Modern and Contemporary
- Jones, Inigo
- Kahlo, Frida
- Katsushika Hokusai
- Lastman, Pieter
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Luca della Robbia (or the Della Robbia Family)
- Luisa Roldán
- Markets and Auctions, Art
- Marxism and Art
- Maya Art
- Medieval Art and Liturgy (recent approaches)
- Medieval Art and the Cult of Saints
- Medieval Art in Scandinavia, 400-800
- Medieval Textiles
- Meiji Painting
- Merovingian Period Art
- Moche Art
- Modern Sculpture
- Monet, Claude
- Māori Art and Architecture
- Museums in Australia
- Museums of Art in the West
- Nasca Art
- Native North American Art, Pre-Contact
- Nazi Looting of Art
- New Media Art
- New Spain, Art and Architecture
- Olmec Art
- Pacific Art, Contemporary
- Palladio, Andrea
- Parthenon, The
- Performance Art
- Perspective from the Renaissance to Post-Modernism, Histor...
- Peter Paul Rubens
- Philip II and El Escorial
- Photography, History of
- Pollock, Jackson
- Polychrome Sculpture in Early Modern Spain
- Postmodern Architecture
- Pre-Hispanic Art of Columbia
- Psychoanalysis, Art and
- Qing Dynasty Painting
- Rembrandt van Rijn
- Renaissance and Renascences
- Renaissance Art and Architecture in Spain
- Rivera, Diego
- Rodin, Auguste
- Roman Art
- Science and Conteporary Art
- Sculpture: Method, Practice, Theory
- South Asia and Allied Textile Traditions, Wall Painting of
- South Asia, Modern and Contemporary Art of
- South Asia, Photography in
- South Asian Architecture and Sculpture, 13th to 18th Centu...
- South Asian Art, Historiography of
- The Art of Medieval Sicily and Southern Italy through the ...
- The Art of Southern Italy and Sicily under Angevin and Cat...
- Theory in Europe to 1800, Art
- Timurid Art and Architecture
- Turner, Joseph Mallord William
- van Gogh, Vincent
- Viking Art
- Warburg, Aby
- Warhol, Andy
- Wari (Huari) Art and Architecture
- Wittelsbach Patronage from the late Middle Ages to the Thi...
- Women, Art, and Art History: Gender and Feminist Analyses
- Yuan Dynasty Art