Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
The Crucifixion With The Virgin And St. John
Mughal, c. 1600 CE
Materials and technique
Opaque watercolour, ink and gold on paper
Page 30 x 21.1 cm
The eclectic tastes of the Mughal rulers, and of Akbar (1555-1605) in particular, gave rise to the use of multiple picture sources among the court painters. Alongside illustrations of a few classics of (mainly) Iranian literature, they also encouraged or commissioned the copying of great illustrated works of Hindu culture (the Ramayana for example), while the religious open-mindedness prevalent under Akbar’s reign and the presence of representatives of Christian orders and of European commercial companies explain the use of Western iconographic sources, both secular and religious. This Crucifixion must stand as one of the most disconcerting examples. After all, although Jesus is indeed a prophet recognised by Islam - and named the “breath of God” (Ruh Allah) - the crucifixion has always been denounced as a fallacy, a simulacrum having been crucified in place of the divine prophet. This gives a measure of the significance of using an “image” like this one. To understand it better we need a more nuanced picture of the milieu in which it was received: in the late sixteenth century India was a huge human reservoir of nearly one hundred million people where Islam was liberally applied; protected status (dhimmi) for non-Muslims was not introduced until the reign of Awrangzeb. It is possible to imagine various hypotheses around this work: it could be a straightforward example of the use of a Western source or a more specific commission from a person who may have had stronger Christian sympathies. Especially noteworthy among the vast repertoire of religious imagery received by the Mughals were the polyglot Bible printed by Christophe Plantin at Antwerp between 1568 CE and 1572 CE and the Marian devotional image promoted by the Jesuits from 1569 onwards - an engraving by Jerome Wierix after a Byzantine work in Santa Maria Maggiore. The margins of the Muraqqa’ Gulshan, an album assembled in India under the reign of Shah Jahan between 1627 CE (the year he came to the throne) and 1636 CE (the date given in chronogramme form on one of the pages) harbour a whole library of European religious and secular imagery. Some clumsiness is evident here (the figure on the left is probably borrowed from another source), along with evidence of adaptation to a different aesthetic milieu: the decorative arrangement of the stones at the foot of the cross, the artificial placing of the bones. The buildings in the background are Western imports while the rocks to the right are reminiscent of the baroque forms adopted by some Iranian manuscript painters of the sixteenth century.
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