The arts of the Indian subcontinent reflect the diversity of its peoples and their long and complex history.

In these pages we look at the place of plants in the art of the region, particularly painting and architecture. Plants such as lotus are not only beautiful, but carry many symbolic meanings that are important in South Asian art.

Painting of Padmini, the lotus lady
Plants appear in temple art as far back as 2000 years ago. Lotus and sacred trees are important symbols in Buddhist and Hindu religious art.

Watercolour of Balarama and Yudhishthira, c.1598
The jewel-like paintings of the Mughal Empire are famous for their beauty and intricate detail. All manner of plants feature, as parts of stories or as ornament. The art of miniatures reached its peak between 1550-1650.

Botanical illustration of marigold flowers, c.1809
As the Mughal Empire declined, artists found new customers in European scientists, especially botanists working for Britain's East India Company. From the late 18th century the East India Company supported a great deal of botanical work.

Botanical illustration of a coconut tree, c.1800
The style of Indian art suited botanical paintings. Local artists became highly skilled at scientific illustration, in a distinctive style that blends eastern and western techniques.