Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Jahangir’s Lion Hunt
Mughal, circa 1615 CE
Materials and technique
Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper
29.7 x 19.9 cm
As with their Timurid ancestors and Safavid and Ottoman contemporaries, the Mughals treated the hunt as one of their most important royal pastimes. Not only did it allow them to acquire and boast their hunting skills, but it also prepared them for war and demonstrated their kingly virtues of courage and bravery. In this lively scene, set within a mountainous region containing a large, leafy tree with thick, gnarled branches and numerous figures engaged in much activity, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the central image of an elephant with two riders, one of which spears a lioness that is attacking a man. Inscriptions on the reverse side of the folio name the main characters in this scene, identifying the principal figure spearing the predator as the emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-27 CE), with Suhrab Khan seated behind him on the elephant and the ruler’s son Parviz (d. 1625 CE) rushing in from the right to help (Welch and Welch 1982, p. 201). Actual royal hunting expeditions and battles were frequently illustrated in Mughal manuscripts, but Canby has proposed that the existence of an almost identical painting in the Museum's collection (with a lighter colour palette) and a drawing of circa 1580 CE showing the same composition suggest that the scene is a generic one used to promote kingly virtues as demonstrated at the hunt (Canby 1998, p. 136; for a reproduction of the drawing, see Leach 1986, p. 40, fig. 11). Drawings played a major role in design transfer and as models for repetition; generic compositions showing hunting, battle, or enthronement scenes could thus be applied to several different surfaces to represent both actual scenes as well as non-specific courtly genres. Canby also suggests that the ascription to Farrukh Khurd-i Chela may apply more directly to the composition as it was first conceived in the form of a drawing in the late sixteenth century; this composition is closely related to the artist’s work of circa 1590 CE (Canby 1998, p. 137). One might suppose that the underdrawing for this illustration was executed by the ascribed artist and that another artist later completed the painting (creating the actual portraits of the royal figures within the composition), a practice not associated with Farrukh Khurd-i Chela, who was known more for designing compositions rather than portraits.
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