Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Akbar And A Dervish
Mughal, c.1586-87 CE
Materials and technique
Ink, opaque watercolour and silver on paper
Page 39.1 x 25.4 cm; Image 23.2 x 16.1 cm
The depiction of Mughal princes and emperors seeking the advice of sages and mystics was common in Mughal painting, especially under Akbar (r. 1556-1605 CE) and Jahangir (r. 1605-27 CE). This choice of image reinforces the ruler’s dynastic hegemony by showing his preference for the spiritual life over worldly power. The drawing is inscribed, ‘Portrait of Shah Akbar. Work of 'Abd al-Samad, Sweet Pen.’ 'Abd al-Samad, one of the two Persian artists that Akbar’s father Humayun (r. 1530-56 CE, with interruption) invited to India from the court of the Safavid Shah Tahmasp of Iran, taught Akbar painting and later became head of his royal studio. He oversaw major manuscript projects including the completion of the Hamzanama, which included 1,400 illustrations. The emphasis on naturalism in the modelling of the figures and animals and the use of spatial recession in the landscape reflect Akbar’s directive to 'Abd al-Samad to prioritise naturalism over Persian-style two-dimensionality, as noted by Akbar’s royal biographer Abu’l Fazl (Skelton 1994, p. 37). Canby, and Welch and Welch have noted that the treatment of the landscape represents a departure for 'Abd al-Samad and that the expressive dervish and sensitively drawn animals may indicate the assistance of Basawan. The drawing is mounted on a cream album-folio with seventeenth-century border-paintings of different birds, cattle, and a cheetah stalking some antelope. The verso of this page contains calligraphy by 'Abd al-Rahim (‘Anbarin Qalam’) dated 1618 CE, with border-paintings of gold outlined flowering plants and curling Chinese-style clouds by the ‘Master of the Borders’, from about 1640 CE.
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