Identifying Jainism in Indian Art

The exhibition Peaceful Conquerors: Jain Manuscript Painting explores the deep connections between art of the book in medieval India, and the Jain religious community. Illustrated palm-leaf manuscripts survive from around the tenth century, and by the end of the fourteenth century, deluxe manuscripts were produced on paper, brilliantly adorned with gold, silver, crimson, and a rich ultramarine derived from imported lapis lazuli.

Curator John Guy returns to the origins of Jain image-making on paper in this lecture. Jainism was central to the beginnings of image-making on the subcontinent as it evolved alongside the Brahmanical teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism. As with representing Buddha, the representation the Jina was long problematic—throughout history, the Jina is sometimes represented by a void—but the earliest figurative representations of Indian divinity may be associated with Jainism. The Jain religion boasts a history of artistic patronage—there is a long tradition of scholarship, and the principal of non-possession often led to philanthropy. The principal of non-violence precluded martial positions in favor of more passive positions, often in finance, creating a high concentration of wealth in a minority population. Guy takes us through this riveting history of image-making on the subcontinent, beginning with the early Indian imagery, and the Jain traditions and beliefs with which it's intertwined.

John Guy, Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, Department of Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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