Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Portraits Of Jahangir And Shah Jahan
Mughal, 1628 CE
Materials and technique
Ink, opaque watercolour, and gold on paper
55.1 x 34.5 cm
Framed within elaborately painted and illuminated borders and mounted on an album page filled with vegetal design in gold, these portraits of two of the greatest Mughal emperors illustrate the contrast in the artistic conventions under each of their reigns. The painted bust of Jahangir (r. 1605-27 CE), the fourth ruler of the dynasty and the son of Akbar (r. 1556-1605 CE), represents the miniature portraits that became fashionable for important figures to wear during this emperor’s reign. The trend began after 1615 CE, when miniature portraits were introduced to India from England by Sir Thomas Roe (Welch and Welch 1982, p. 215; Canby 1998, p. 143). The artistic style under Jahangir is well represented by the artist Balchand, known for his ability to capture the more emotional and “human” qualities of subjects in his paintings (Welch and Welch 1982, p. 215). Balchand identifies himself through a Persian inscription on Jahangir’s left shoulder: “rasm-i [the drawing of] Balchand.” The portrait of Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58 CE), Jahangir’s son and successor, provides a stark contrast to the image of his father. While both sitters are shown in profile view and are illuminated by the golden halo around their heads, the standard convention for representing Mughal emperors, Shah Jahan’s larger, oval-shaped portrait commands a more public viewing audience. The illustration of the later emperor’s torso allows the artist to show Shah Jahan holding attributes that symbolize his power, such as his sword and the official seal in his hand. The seal inscription, deliberately made legible (in reverse mirror image) for the viewer, lists the emperor’s titles: “Abu’l-Muzaffar Muhammad Shihab al-Din Shah Jahan Padshah-i Ghazi Sahib Qiran-i Thani 1.” Sheila Canby has suggested that the last title, “Sahib Qiran-i Thani” (the Second Lord of the Astral conjunction), refers to Timur (r. 1370-1405 CE), the founder of the Timurid dynasty from which the Mughals were descended (Canby 1998, p. 143). This connection to the greatest Timurid ruler would have helped Shah Jahan legitimise his right to the throne following his father’s death. The iconic, idealized courtly style of Shah Jahan’s era is already apparent at the start of his reign; the painting is signed and dated in the first year of the emperor’s rule to the left of the portrait by Nadir al-Zaman, known as Abu’l-Hasan: “It was painted at the beginning of the blessed ascension / Presented for the appraisal of the most pure / the work of the humblest of servants, Nadir al-Zaman.” The emperor is shown in strict profile, staring blankly ahead while covered in precious, easily identified jewels. In contrast to the naturalistic rendering of his father, whose facial features are carefully modelled and suggest a three-dimensional appearance, Shah Jahan’s image has become iconic and creates a greater distance between the viewer and the sitter. These disparities demonstrate the varying uses of art by Jahangir and Shah Jahan, the latter of which was known for his active involvement in the conception of artistic and architectural projects (Koch 1997). Using the painted portrait in different ways, one ruler preserves his royal status while evoking his human character, while the other dehumanizes himself by creating an iconic image that will emphasize his power and authority and render awe in his subjects.
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