India Art History - AP Art History India

Topic 2: India

  • Indian civilization apparently emerged first in the valley of the Indus River in what is now Pakistan' Later, the plain of the Ganges would see the rise of "classical" Indian civilization, culminating in the unification of much of the subcontinent under the Gupta Empire in the years 320 - 55O CE. Despite subsequent waves of invasion and migration, what scholars refer to as the ancient Indic world view remained influential both in India and in Asia as a whole. This world view included a belief in the cyclical nature of existence, and the differentiation between cosmic and earthly planes of existence. This world view was expressed and elaborated in the philosophical texts known as the Vedas, some written as early as second millennium BCE in the language known as Sanskrit, which would remain a sacred language of Indic traditions. The Indic world view colored Buddhism, Hinduism, and their related arts.

  • the most characteristic structures of Buddhism include monastic complexes and the stupa, a dome-shaped structure usually containing a relic of the Buddha or a Buddhist teacher. These structures may have evolved from simple burial mounds. The stupa at Sanchi in north India is an important early example that was later modified and still stands today. In early Buddhist art, the Buddha himself was rarely depicted in human form, but Buddhist monuments such as the stupa at Sanchi often featured depictions of the jataka tales, stories of the Buddha's various incarnation that would remain a staple of Buddhist art. The familiar image of the Buddha may have developed in northwest India in response to contacts with the Hellenistic culture of the Mediterranean.

  • Buddhism largely died out in India. Hinduism, a fusion of polytheistic folk religion with the sophisticated philosophy of the Vedas, emerged as the dominant religion instead. Hindu temples were often covered in complex programs of sculpture depicting human beings and gods engaged in all kinds of activities including, as at the famous Lakshmana temple at Khajuraho, erotic ones. The design of Hindu temples varied by region, but usually featured a convex peak meant to evoke Mount Meru, the legendary five-peaked mountain where the gods dwelled. Another characteristic Hindu art form was the production of images of the gods to be carried in processions and used in rituals. These include figures such as the Shiva Nataraja, the image of the god Shiva as Lord of the Dance, perpetually dancing the universe into and out of existence.

  • In the sixteenth century, Central Asian invaders carried Islam into India, along with Ottoman and Persian cultural influences. These invaders formed the Mughal Empire, whose arts and architecture frequently drew on Ottoman and Persian sources; this was also the period in which regular contacts with Europe were established. Mughal architecture continues to define the popular image of India; the most famous example is the Taj Mahal, built as a mausoleum for the wife of the Emperor Jahangir.

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