Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
A Drowsy Courtier Reading By Candlelight
Sultanate, circa 1630 CE
Materials and technique
Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper
35.4 x 22.1 cm
In this single-page tinted drawing, enclosed in a border of golden flower sprays and mounted on a blue album page decorated with a gold floral scroll, a middle-aged courtier - perhaps a scholar or princely tutor - demonstrates royal interest in the pursuit of knowledge. Struggling to stay awake, he continues to read by candlelight.The finished composition reveals points of colour selected to highlight the sash around the courtier’s removed turban, his collar and belt, a set of rosary beads and the vegetal designs on the border and cartouches of the carpet. Drowsily, he leans against a cushion tied at each end with tassels rendered in black ink, its folds marked by light washes of red. The candlestick in front of the reader is painted in gold, suggesting the object’s medium, while white is used to represent both the candle and the borders of the man’s book. This image draws attention to the profound dedication to learning in Islamic India. During the first half of the seventeenth century, the sultanates of the Deccan were at varying moments either ruling their respective regions autonomously or struggling under Mughal power. Their artistic influences appear to have come from a mixture of Persian, Turkman, Ottoman, and Mughal sources. In this case, the drawing seems to combine an attempt at portraying the calligraphic silhouettes and subtle textures of the Safavid painter Riza ‛Abbasi (in the figure’s stance and the extra-long sleeves of his fur-collared robe) with a more naturalistic rendering of the courtier’s facial features, such as his furrowed brow and double chin.
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