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Exploring Color in Mughal Paintings

Court painters from the Mughal empire in India created detailed portraits of some of the most powerful and wealthy figures of the 17th century. These paintings traveled to Europe through trade, where their fine lines and majestic subjects inspired artists like Rembrandt. Learn how the Mughal painters employed a variety of natural pigments in their brilliantly colored images of emperors and elites. This video accompanied the exhibition "Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India" (March 13, 2018 – June 24, 2018) at the Getty Museum. For more information visit: http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/rembrandt_india/. Created by Getty Museum.

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Video transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] In the mid-1600s, Rembrandt created a series of drawings inspired by the elegant style of imperial Mughal paintings, especially those made at the court of his contemporary, the emperor Shah Jahan. Painters working for the Mughal emperors perfected this vibrantly colorful art form in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Mughal paintings were made on cotton fiber-based paper. Artists used an opaque paint made of powdery pigment and water, bound with gum arabic. The paint was applied using brushes of squirrel or kitten hair. A painting was either completed by a single artist or made in a workshop, in which one artist drew the composition and painted the main subjects, and others added details. After a painting was completed, the surface was burnished with an agate, a gemstone. This friction generated heat and pressure, giving the colors added depth and luminosity. [MUSIC PLAYING] Mughal artists used a rich orange-red pigment called vermilion, or cinnabar, made from the mineral mercury sulfide. A vivid blue, now called ultramarine, was made from lapis lazuli, mined in Afghanistan. Bright yellow was made using an arsenic-based pigment called orpiment. Another type of yellow, Indian yellow, was made from the urine of cows that had been fed mango leaves. Green was either a mix of ultramarine and orpiment, or consisted of verdigris, a pigment made from copper treated with vinegar. Mughal artists used a chalky white paint made from lead, or ground-up shells, and lampblack, which comes from charcoal or soot. Luxurious metallic paints were derived from gold and silver powders. Purplish hues were made from the secretions of the lac beetle. Eventually, Mughal painting shifted away from the courts of emperors, and its practice spread. It developed into regional styles across the Indian subcontinent, and also inspired European artists... like Rembrandt. [MUSIC PLAYING]