Contents: Table of plates. 1. The Jatakas referred to in the table of plates. 2. Note on previous copyings of the frescoes/Editor. 3. The expedition/Sir Wilmot Herringham. 4. Note on the history and character of the paintings/Lady Herringham. 5. Note on the method of copying/Larcher. 6. The place of the Ajanta paintings in eastern art/Laurence Binyon. 7. The import of the Ajanta paintings in the history of the art/William Rothenstein. 8. Buddhist cave-temples and their paintings/F.W. Thomas. 9. Short bibliography of works treating of ancient Indian painting (sculpture not expressly excluded), or of Buddhist iconography or mythology as represented in art/F.W. Thomas.
"Ajanta is the great surviving monument of the painting created by the Buddhist faith and fervour in the land which gave birth to that religion. The most beautiful of these paintings are taken from the Jataka stories, the legends of the earthly life of the Buddha in various successive existences. They also illustrate the court life and popular life of the time, as told in the romances and plays.
"The paintings of Ajanta represents the pinnacle of an ancient tradition, even the earliest among them is marked by the refinement of style and technique. These painting exerted powerful influence over other regions artistic production: the beginnings of Buddhist painting in Tibet, Nepal, Central Asia, China, and Japan all can be traced to the inspiration of Ajanta. Indeed, Ajanta is unique in its scope, combining painting, sculpture, and architecture, and illustrating the development of Buddhism over the centuries of the caves' excavation. It is a Buddhist site that thrived in a Brahmanical world and at zenith of its artistic achievement it represented the pervasive classical culture of the Gupta age.
"In the words of the scholar Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, "almost all that belongs to the common spiritual consciousness of Asia, the ambient in which its diversities are reconcilable, is of Indian origin in the Gupta period." The entire importance of Ajanta today lies in this legacy. Propped by the charity of kings and commoners, Buddhist monastic life hummed in an environment of artistic creativity from the second century B.C. to the seventh century A.D.
"On the hundred walls and pillars of these rock-carved temples a vast drama moves before the eyes, a drama played by princes and sages and heroes, by men and women of every condition, against a marvellously varied scene, among forests and gardens, in courts and cities, on wide plains and in deep jungles, while above the messengers of heaven move swiftly across the sky. From all these emanates a great joy in the surpassing radiance of the face of the world, in the physical nobility of men and women, in the strength and grace of animals and the lovelines and purity of birds and flowers; and woven into this fabric of material beauty we see the ordered pattern of the spiritual realities of the universe.
"It is this perfect combination of material and spiritual energy which marks the great periods of art. In the copies here reproduced Lady Herringham and her able lieutenants have been successful, through their perception of this characteristic of the Ajanta paintings, in conveying a great deal of the passion and energy of the original forms.
"So true is the psychological character of these paintings, so remarkable the delineation of human and animal forms, so profound the spiritual portrayal of Indian life, that they may still serve today, in the absence of contemporaneous works of the kind, to represent the culture and character, rapidly changing though they now be, of the Indian people." (jacket)