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Pigments in Jain manuscript art

Ultraviolet photography

The same folio (IS.35:16-1971) viewed under two types of light. The view under the visible light is at the top while the view under ultraviolet light is below. The pigment called Indian yellow, which was used to paint the yellow areas of the folio, shows

View under two types of light
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Materials that seem to be the same colour in normal, visible light may respond differently when examined under ultraviolet (UV) light because of their different chemical composition.

Six folios were examined under UV light to check their appearance under such conditions.

What were the results?

Investigating even this small pool of manuscripts has provided an overview of the use of pigments and artists’ materials in Jain manuscripts. The Jain manuscript paintings were produced between the 15th and 18th centuries, which allows changes in the materials of the paintings to be traced. Even though the Hindu manuscripts that were studied date only from the 15th century, they can be compared with the Jain manuscripts in the sample.

These insights into Jain manuscript art come from the results of the scientific analysis and the expertise of the V&A curators and conservators.


Raman spectra examples of lapis lazuli obtained by analysing the blue areas of a folio. Materials subjected to Raman microscopy, which are examined at molecular level, can be identified by their unique 'Raman fingerprint'.

Raman analysis of lapis lazuli
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In Jain manuscripts, traditional materials remained largely favoured over the three centuries covered in this study, even though some colours were later produced by using different pigments.

Traditional pigments were used quite consistently over this time period, despite any stylistic differences shown by the miniatures. Examples of these traditional materials include:

  • lapis lazuli – a costly blue mineral
  • indigo – a plant dye producing blue
  • orpiment – a yellow mineral
  • vermilion – a red mineral
  • carbon black – usually produced from charcoal
  • shell gold – gold powder bound with gum Arabic or egg.

The investigation could not identify a few of the artists’ materials on the folios, such as an organic red and a green that contained copper. However, partial information on their composition was obtained.

On the other hand, over time Jain artists used different materials to achieve the same hues. For example, the early paintings show that orpiment was usual, while Indian yellow and a pale yellow dye were found in the more recent ones. Similarly, a white pigment containing calcium was common in early examples but in the later folios was replaced with either lead white alone or combined with tin white. In the later manuscripts, red lead was used, in addition to vermilion and a red organic dye, for pink, purple and brown shades.

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