Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Sages In Religious Discussion
Mughal, circa 1670 CE
Materials and technique
Opaque watercolour on paper
The Mughal fascination with the spiritual guidance of mystics and sages was so profound that it was even acknowledged in this painting from the reign of Awrangzeb (r. 1658-1707 CE), the most orthodox and least tolerant of the Mughal emperors. Canby has attributed this work to Awrangzeb’s ruling period due to its strict symmetry - emphasized by the formation of eight figures divided by a central waterfall and a geometric carpet medallion - as well as the move away from depicting a more naturalistic landscape in the typical Mughal manner (Canby 1998, p. 152). In this scene, four figures face each other on either side of the picture plane, engaged in deep discussion, probably led by the central figures sitting closest to the waterfall. One might imagine that the figure on the left represents the figure of the revered Shaykh Salim Chishti. The emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605 CE) built a white marble shrine for the shaykh at Fatehpur Sikri after his prayers for a son were answered with the birth of Jahangir (r. 1605-27 CE). Mystics, scholars, and sages were frequently portrayed in paintings under Akbar, Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58 CE) and Jahangir; Canby suggests the present image might have even been inspired by the work of the artist Govardhan, known for his superb paintings of sages under Shah Jahan (ibid.).
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