South Indian Paintings – A Catalogue of the British Museum Collection

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Item Code: IHL692
Author: A.L. Dahmen Dallapiccola
Publisher: Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9788189995393
Pages: 320 (Illustrated Throughout In Colors)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.2 inch X 9.0 inch
Weight 1.61 kg
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Book Description
From the Jacket

The British Museum holds a major collection of more than 1,000 South Indian paintings. Ranging from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century they represent a wide variety of themes and techniques, but only a very few examples have ever been published before. Here the collection is catalogued in full for the first time, and 250 of the most significant works are reproduced in all their vibrant colour.

The introduction summarizes political and artistic developments in the subcontinent between 1500 A.D. and 1900 A.D., with a brief survey of South Indian painting from the medieval period onwards. The works are catalogued according to subject—Hindu mythology; castes, trades and occupations; natural history drawings; painted narratives—and the support on which they were executed (paper, mica, leather, cloth or wood). Each section begins with a short discussion of essential stylistic and iconographic features, ensuring the book is accessible not only to scholars but also to students and enthusiasts of all aspects of South Asian art and culture.

Among the many highlights are several albums, including a set of sixty paintings depicting Hindu mythology dating from the early decades of the nineteenth century More unusual are the long painted scrolls from Andhra illustrating local mythological narratives, the painted cloths from Tamil Nadu depicting scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and paintings on paper used by the storytellers of the region at the border between Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. A technical study of a pair of exceptional ‘Company School’ paintings is included as an appendix. Also provided for reference are two maps, a glossary, selected bibliography concordance and several indexes.

A.L. Dallapiccola is Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh and makes regular research visits to India. She was previously Professor of Indian Art History at the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg. Her other books include Die ‘Paithan’ Malerei, The Sastric Traditions in Indian Arts (editor), Sculpture at Vijayanagara (co-authored with Anila Verghese), Hindu Myths, Indian Art in Detail, Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend, and King, Capital and Court (co-authored with C.T.M. Kotraiah).



The distinctive painting traditions of southern India have received relatively little scholarly examination, and certainly much less than those associated with other parts of the sub- continent, including Mughal, Raiput and Pahari paintings. This volume sets out to correct the old bias and provides readers for the first time with information and insights that allow them to experience the richness of the southern traditions. For this, the British Museum is greatly indebted to Professor Anna Dallapiccola, whose long association with the cultural history of the southern states of India has taken impressive shape here. Indeed, not only does this book challenge former prejudices that privileged northern works, but it also brings welcome scholarly focus to the importance of simultaneously valuing multiple, distinct regional traditions.

Professor Dallapiccola’s book includes paintings that in the past have been largely, and unfairly, ignored because of association non-elite groups; relegated to the status of ‘folk art', they received less attention than works by court artists. Refreshingly, in this publication, artists supported by wealthy patrons as well as those who worked in modest, rural ateliers, producing paintings for events such as story telling are treated equally.

Another neglected area is the school of works that has for some decades gone under the unsatisfactory title of ‘Company Paintings’, irrespective of where they were produced or for What purpose. The term has been applied to late eighteenth- and nineteenth—century paintings made in response to the demands of Europeans in India a result of trade and then of foreign rule. At least half the paintings in this volume belong to this category, and the wealth of information — about region and iconography — that the author has extracted from these works attests to the significance of this tradition, which is worthy of more extended study.

Another laudable aspect of this publication is the inclusion of paintings executed on cloth, a type of artistic endeavour of fundamental cultural importance in southern India, and also in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, where an export market in painted and dyed indian textiles existed for many centuries. Cloth paintings were frequently employed as aids in ’storytelling' devoted to transmitting the great Indian epics, including the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Krishna-lila, to a broad public. By presenting cloth paintings in the same volume as those executed on other support materials, Professor Dallapiccola enables us to apprehend more fully than ever before the visual vocabulary of the complete range of indian paintings. In India the tradition of painting and dyeing cloth for narrative purposes predates the use of paper, so any serious examination of Indian painting must include this type of work; it is to Professor Dallapiccola’s great credit that she is a pioneer in this area.

It is gratifying to thank and acknowledge Professor Dallapiccola for her extensive research and labour on this volume, which deftly draws on existing literature, but then dramatically expands the subject by charting new areas of study in the field of Indian painting. It is an honour for the British Museum that she has used the collections here the vehicle to present her lifelong scholarship. Lt is also a pleasure to thank the Museum’s curator, Richard Blurton, for his expertise and support offered to Professor Dallapiccola in her work on this volume.

The Museum has also greatly benefited from Professor Dallapiccol’s generosity in adding to the collections through gifts from the Foundation established in memory of her parents (see cats 24 and 33), and also through her munificence in donating a sequence of the so—called Paithan paintings illustrating the legend of l—Harishchandra (cat. 34). This donation ensures that the Museums holdings of 'Paithan' paintings — as a type, hardly mentioned fifty years ago — are one of the finest outside the sub- continent. The fact that the paintings Professor Dallapiccola donated depict one narrative and were probably produced by a single artist makes this group of works of immense interest for the British Museum, which focuses not just on art, but endeavours to study and place objects in the context of their broad cultural history. These gifts to the collection and significantly the ground-breaking research in this new book are a perfect fit with the Museums aims finally, we are extremely grateful to Mark and Liza Love day and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter foundation for making this publication possible.



In 1988 my colleague Richard Blurton, recently appointed a curator at the British Museum, wrote me a letter {in those days we still corresponded by post!) drawing my attention to a port- folio of South Indian paintings which had been deposited in the British Museum. From the enthusiastic tone of the message, it was clear that the item in question was of exceptional quality and that I should see it as soon as possible, before the owner took it back. Mr Blurton's enthusiasm was IIOI unjustified; what I was shown then, undoubtedly one of the finest examples of early nineteenth—century South Indian painting, was to become part of the collection in 2007 (cat. 3).

In the wake of this episode my interest in the collection and in new acquisitions grew. Although Indian painting has always been one of my special areas of interest, I did not contemplate embarking on a study of nineteenth-century South Indian paintings, busy as I was with my field work at Vijayanagara and other South Indian sites. However, when these projects came to an end in 2001, I found myself free to think about some other field of research. In the years 2003-4 Richard Blurton and I discussed the prospect of cataloguing the South Indian painting holdings of the Museum. This idea was enthusiastically supported by Robert Knox, then Keeper of the Department of Oriental Antiquities, who graciously helped me in every way during the initial stages of my work. I was told that there were perhaps live to six hundred items which required cataloguing. This was something of an underestimate: I discovered, in the course of my research, that the collection comprised some one thousand items.

Using this catalogue
The catalogue is divided into five main sections. Part I, the most extensive, deals with about five hundred drawings of deities, saints and holy places. Processional scenes and temple festivals have also been included here.

Part II is devoted to depictions of castes, trades and occupations and portraits of rulers and foreign dignitaries. The most outstanding items in this section are the two portraits of Sir John Dalling and his entourage (cats 18.5 and 18.6), some of the most recent additions to the collection, which are also the subject of the Appendix (p. 299).

Part III deals exclusively with natural history drawings. All the works are executed on mica. Among the usual depictions of flowers, plants and birds is a rarity; an album illustrating various types of orchids, carefully observed and beautifully executed (cat. 19).

Part IV is the most varied and introduces a different type of artistic expression: painted narratives. These works were prepared not for foreign visitors in search of the curious or the picturesque, but for local audiences. The collection includes a number of painted scrolls, hangings and paintings on paper used by story tellers to narrate tales drawn from the epics, genealogies of specific castes and Puranic stories.

Part V consists of only one three-dimensional item (eat. 35), a large wooden model of a processional chariot. This was one of the British Museum’s earliest Indian acquisitions, donated in 1793, and is included in this catalogue because of its series of painted panels.

Each catalogue entry begins with a descriptive title, followed by the British Museum registration number and information on technique, dimensions, date, provenance and the original language of any inscriptions. The main entry provides a description of the painting, followed by English translations of inscriptions. A number of items also bear notes beneath the drawings, written in English by previous owners. Bibliographical references are given if the painting has previously been published. Details relating to individual paintings within albums or other groupings are provided in sub—entries.

Diverse Indian languages (Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Sanskrit and Marathi) appear in this work, and as far as possible the attempt has been made to unify the English spellings. This has posed difficulties, as there is no uniformity in the spelling of the names of localities, deities, temples, etc., which are spelt according to traditional oral usage or to the original source of the information. In addition, Indian languages use a number of letters which have no equivalent in English: e.g. there is no letter ‘w', thus “v' and 'w' are interchangeable, and there are two forms of ’sh’, well as combinations of letters such as 'zh’.

Philologists have devised systems of diacritical marks to represent specific sounds, but since such subtle differences are of relatively minor importance in the context of this catalogue, it has been decided to dispense with these marks. Unless they have become familiar in English usage, terms from Indian languages are italicized throughout his catalogue, and brief definitions can be found in the Glossary. Plurals and indicated as in English, by adding the letter’s.

Another complication is that, over the last few decades, the names of many Indian towns and cities have been officially changed: Calcutta has become Kolkata, Trivandrum is now Thiruvananthapuram, Calicut is Kozhikode, etc. These new names have been used throughout this catalogue and the maps; to assist readers who may be more familiar with the previous names, the index of place names includes cross references, e.g. ‘Tanjore see Thanjavur’.

British Museum registration numbers, prefaced by the Department name (Asia), are given for each catalogue entry. These identify the individual drawing, including those within a set: generally the year of original registration by the Museum appears as the First four digits. The punctuation follows the conventions of the Museum’s online catalogue.




  Foreword 7
  Preface 8
  Acknowledgements 10
  Introduction 11
Part I Hindu mythology 25
Part II Castes, trades and occupations 163
Part III Natural history drawings 215
Part IV Painted narratives 225
Part V Processional chariot 297
  Appendix 299
  Glossary 305
  Maps 308
  Selected bibliography 310
  Concordance 313
  Indexes 315
  Index of geographical names and monuments 315
  Index of deities, mythological figures, saints, texts and festivals 316
  Index of castes, trades, occupations and ceremonies 318
  General index 319


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