SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Nardi, Isabella (2003) The theory of Indian painting: The citrasutras, their uses and interpretations. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

[img] PDF - Submitted Version
Download (28MB)


This study critically analyses the main concepts described in the Sanskrit texts on painting, the citrasutras. The citrasutras are a section of Sanskrit scientific literature analysing painting within the framework of Indian philosophical thought. This thesis explores the content of the citrasutras, critically examines the different ways in which they have been interpreted and used in the study of Indian painting, and suggests a new approach to reading and understanding them. One of the aims of this thesis is to draw together, examine and compare the concepts of the citrasutras such as measurement and proportion, and will also add, for the first time, the concepts of talamana and iconography to the theory of painting. This is to overcome the limits of current research, which considers concepts of the citrasutras separate from those of the texts on the theory of sculpture. It is argued here that this widespread approach is unhelpful if not misleading for our understanding of the theory of Indian painting. Another point raised by this work is that the texts have always been regarded as prescriptive compilations. This established view directly contradicts the central observation made in this study that the citrasutras present different views on Indian painting. This is evidenced by the many contradictions that appear in the study of the citrasutras, and in particular the discrepancies between textual images and extant painting. A key empirical basis from which the critical analysis and commentary of this study draw is the application of views and experiences of traditional painters living and practising their art today. Their accounts are drawn upon to furnish the argument of this study that the citrasutras are not to be considered as prescriptive guides for painters. Rather, the texts constitute a theoretical basis that should work in the mind of a painter and can therefore be translated into practice in various ways. It is hoped that the comparison and analysis of textual concepts will provide new insights into our understanding of the practice of painting and our interpretation of the citrasutras, and that an appropriate reading of the texts will bring us closer to appreciating Indian painting from an Indian perspective.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:03

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item