Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Prince Dara Shikuh And His Mistress On A Terrace At Night
Mughal, 18th century CE
Materials and technique
Opaque watercolour and gold on paper
33.5 x 21 cm
The Mughal Prince Dara Shikuh (1615-59 CE) and a young mistress lie in bed, locked in a loving embrace and lost in an intense shared gaze. In spite of the presence of several female attendants - two seated musicians and three servants at the foot and either side of the bed - this scene emits an aura of quiet and romantic intimacy. It also invites the viewer to take some time examining the portrait, for the longer one looks, the more one becomes seduced by the image itself. Meticulously rendered details of floral, vegetal and geometric designs appear on the surfaces of carpets, the marble floor, and the countless variety of embroidered textiles woven in silk and gold. Every pearl and jewel worn by the lovers and their attendants can be identified and counted. Even trailed-glass bottles sitting in the cupboard in the back are rendered in skilful detail; one bottle, held on a tray by the servant closest to the prince, contains a duck-headed spout. The entire portrait appears to have been framed more than once, containing a border of flowers and leaves rendered in gold, and mounted finally on an album whose margins are painted with a dense design of colourful flowers, including irises and peonies, and a single bird. Royal portraits depicting subjects in private or informal settings gained favour during the reigns of Jahangir (r. 1605-27 CE) and Dara Shikuh’s father, Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58 CE); they were painted by artists such as the brothers Payag and Balchand, whose careers began under Akbar (r. 1556-1605 CE). This work has been attributed to Balchand between the 1640s and 1650s as it has been painted in sombre, ominous colours and employs the European technique of chiaroscuro to highlight certain elements in the picture. Canby has noted a possible relationship between Balchand’s attention to so much detail and a similarly meticulous style exhibited in seventeenth-century Dutch painting; Balchand would surely have had access to Dutch paintings and could have reinterpreted the style for use in Mughal art (Canby 1998, p. 150).
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