They have been under lock and key since the 19th century.
Now, a selection of 25 miniature Indian paintings hidden away in the University of Edinburgh archives are being displayed for the first time at the Talbot Rice Gallery.
The vibrant 15th-18th century “ragamala” paintings – only slightly bigger than a side of A4 – were gifted to the university in the 1800s.
Expert Anna Dallapiccola of the University of Edinburgh and one of the people behind the display said: “Ragamala is one of the most prolific themes of Indian painting and we’re lucky that we have two almost complete sets. Images of them were published in 1973 as black and white thumbnails in a book but this is the first time the public has had the chance to appreciate them.”
A ragamala is a set of paintings depicting various musical modes, or ragas, of Indian music. Verses are written on the border or the back of leaves.
“Certainly this style of painting meant a lot culturally,” said Ms Dallapiccola. “The paintings are inspired by love poetry and the situation of love – normally of love in separation. ”
One of the sets, the Jaipur Ragamala Rajasthan, was gifted to the university by Dwarkanath Tagore in 1842. Tagore was a western-educated Bengali Brahmin. His friendship and business association with the merchant and amateur artist William Prinsep helped to bring these works to Edinburgh.
The second set, the Hyderabad Ragamala, is thought to date back to the 1770s. They were acquired by John Baillie, director of the East India Company, and were presented to the university in 1876.
Exhibitions assistant James Clegg said: “The ones given to us from Jaipur have bright red frames. I think from a connoisseur’s point of view they would be seen as a cruder example of Ragamala. In the second set it seems as if the artist was able to freely interpret the themes.” The show runs to October 22.