The History of Indian Mughal Miniature Painting

Part - 3

The libraries, established by Emperor Akbar, were not only continued but also expanded and enriched by his successors Jahangir and Shahjahan. Regrettably, they were ravaged during the wars of the 18th and 19th centuries. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that some of these exquisite paintings have survived in private collections elsewhere and continue to reverberate with tales of their illustrious past. 

Portrait of Jahangir.

 The successor of Emperor Akbar, Jahangir (Full name Nur-ud-din Muhammad Salim Jahangir), ascended to the highest point in his father's tradition with regal poise and decorum. In his autobiography, we discover his fervent passion for painting and deep admiration for royal artists. His love for artists knew no bounds! Later on, European artists who visited his court documented Emperor Jahangir's fascination with art. According to their accounts, he interacted with artists as if they were close friends. Crown Prince Jahangir bestowed the honorary title 'Khan' upon Sharif, son of artist Abdus Samad.


In his reign of thirteen years, he wrote in his autobiography, 'Today, our royal artist Abul Hasan gift me a painting. He presented the painting as a cover image of the novel Jahangirnama. The painting was indeed worth complementation, and therefore, I rewarded him. I think if Abdul Hai and Bihzad existed, they would do the same as I did. His father, Aka Reeza, was always with me when I was a prince. Hasan was born in my palace. But Hasan, the son, is more genius and talented than his father. I arranged his education, and as a result, it is hard to find a similarly gifted person like him. His portrait is just outstanding! Mansur was also an expert in decorative design. I named him Nadirul Asli. No one was such a great artist in my father's time and my reign.’



 I must note that Abul Fazl's list of distinguished artists has omitted the names cited by Jahangir, likely due to their recognition during Akbar's later reign. I have had the pleasure of viewing two paintings by Mansur in the esteemed museum of Calcutta.


Emperor Jahangir estimated himself to be a highly fascinating art critic. Of course, there was a legitimate reason behind such an estimation. Based on the historical description, sometimes, Jahangir ordered several artists to compose a painting by splitting it up into several parts. Some funny matters related to such order could be found in his autobiography.


Jahangir said, “I am passionate about painting and even so high that I could easily define who had composed the painting. No matter if the artist lives or has passed. If several artists represent several portraits in the same painting, I can make an apprise of which portrait was created by whom. I can even mention the names of artists if a single picture is formed by several artists just by watching the portrait. I can define which part of the portrait is depicted by whom. Specifically, I can even mention who made the forehead, the eyebrow, and finally, the retouching on artwork”.

 If anyone considered it the arrogance of the Emperor, then it should be kept in mind that those Mughal miniature paintings are recognized as the best and even expensive, which Emperor Jahangir sealed.

Prince Selim, the future Jahangir

 Once, Jahangir received a rare gift of animals from Goa and commissioned his esteemed court artists to create portraiture of these magnificent creatures. In his autobiography, he noted that while Emperor Akbar had described certain animals in his own biography, it is unlikely that he had ever ordered live portraits to be made. In contrast, Jahangir proudly declared that he himself had taken this extraordinary step.

Jahangir prioritized the portrayal of objects with utmost accuracy, ensuring they appeared as they truly were. During his reign, Indian painting adhered to this approach; however, it differed from European paintings in terms of verisimilitude. While the latter relied on dimensional touch ability based on tonal depth, light and shadows, contouring etc., Indian painting was purely representational in nature - lacking any sense of dimensional depth or color tones, only length and width. Consequently, it often appeared flat due to the high sunlight which melted all masses and their tonal variety. The mandate was simple: observe an object meticulously before returning to one's studio to begin a painting using imaginative intuition that follows what your eyes captured during observation. This is true artistry that has kept Indian paintings modern by its soul.





Will continue in next episode


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Last updated on - 07.02.2024