Paintings from the Royal Ateliers

Below is a selection of miniature paintings in the royal albums from Delhi, Bijapur, and Rajasthan. All image descriptions are by Usha Bhatia. See also Mughal paintings from the Bharat Kala Bhavan.

The Ladies of Krishna's Harem are shown the Sacrificial Horse
A folio from the Razm-Nama
Mughal, Reign of Akbar, 1598
Painter: Bhagwan
Size: 22.9 x 14 cm
Oriental and India Office Collection, British Library, London

The leading historians of Akbar's reign, Badauni and Abu'l Fazl, both refer to Akbar's commissioning in 1582 a Persian translation of the great Hindu epic the Mahabharata. The translation was made by Naqib Khan and Badauni, the latter collaborating reluctantly and complaining of its absurdities and idolatrous nature. The translation was in prose and illustrated. The imperial copy is now in the Jaipur royal collection. Badauni also wrote that orders were given by Akbar for additional copies to be made by the Amirs. Some of these copies still exist.

In this painting, Yudhishthira brings the sacrificial horse to Krishna's palace and there his women admire it. Bhagwan has illustrated the colorful scene with an animated circle of ladies exchanging glances with the soldiers outside the zenana that surrounds the center of the composition. A conversation is taking place between the Pandava king and his ally Krishna.

Emperor Jahangir preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings
From the St. Petersburg Album
Mughal, Reign of Jahangir, 1615
Painter: Bichitr (borders by Muhammad Saddiqi)
Size: 25.3 x 18.0 cm
Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC

This painting is an opaque watercolor with gold and ink on paper. It shows the Mughal emperor Jahangir exchanging a book with a sufi shaikh while various courtiers and a European envoy look on from the foreground. The emperor is seated on a raised platform suspended above an oversized hourglass. This symbolizes his mortality—as well as that of the other people in the image—yet the cherubs write in Persian on the hourglass "Oh Shah, may the span of your life be a thousand years." The emperor's halo and the cherubs above and below him are evidence of the influence of European artistic motifs in Mughal painting during the reign of Jahangir.

Allegorical Representation of Emperor Jahangir and Shah Abbas
From the St. Petersburg Album
Mughal, Reign of Jahangir, 1618
Painter: Abu'l Hasan
Size: 23.8 x 15.4 cm
Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC

This painting is an opaque watercolor with gold and ink on paper. It shows Emperor Jahangir of India and Shah Abbas of Persia embracing and is an allegorical representation of the friendship between the Mughal and Safavid empires. Both figures stand atop the world (symbolizing their power) and a lion and lamb lying together (symbolizing peace). The halo behind the two figures that is suspended by cherubs as well as the vivid floral patterns in the borders reveal the influence of European artistic motifs in Mughal painting during the reign of Jahangir.

Emperor Shah Jahan receives Dara Shukoh
Mughal, Reign of Shah Jahan, 1650
Size: 37.2 x 25.4 cm
Nalsi and Alice Heeramaneck collection
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

This is a typical and beautiful example of imperial Mughal portraiture. Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, sits imperiously on an elegant chair on a carpeted terrace and receives his eldest son Dara Shukoh. Dara, the philosopher prince, appears as a supplicant in the paining and there are two attendants. In all such imperial portraits a halo is always shown around the emperor's head thereby signifying his divine right of kingship. The formal composition is appropriate to the occasion while the lavish rendering of jewelry, costumes, and the carpet convey a sense of elegance and sumptuousness for which the Mughal court was legendary.

Folio from the Rasikapriya of Kesavadasa
Bikaner, Rajasthan, 1710
Painter: Bhura
Size: 27.3 x 19 cm
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

This painting illustrates a verse from the Rasikapriya of Kesavadasa, a Hindi poet attached to the court of Orchha, a Rajput state in Bundelkhand. The Rasikapriya deals with Krishna and Radha as archetypal lovers. In the painting Krishna is seated in the upper pavilion while Radha is seated in the lower one and is addressed by a companion. Other female companions hold a conference in the orchard outside the wall. The inscription on the reserve reads "work of Bhura; a folio of Rasikapriya, on the first half Sravan, Samvat, a pupil of Isa at Bikaner." The coloring reflects the subtlety, refinement, and serenity of the Bikaner style.

Shahji muses on his beloved wife Mahji
From the Pem-nem of Hams
Bijapur, Deccan, 1591
Size: 17 x 9 cm
Oriental and India Office Collection, British Library, London

The Pem-nem is a romance in Dakhni Urdu composed by the poet Hahsan Mahjhu Kalji under his pen name "Hams" in 1591. It contains an elegy on the faded beauty of the city of Bijapur and the greatness of its ruler Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1556-1627). No other copies of this work are known and this painting was likely one of a kind made exclusively for the enjoyment of the sultan and his friends. The story follows the standard Indian romance, in which the hero after many difficulties is eventually united with his beloved.

This lovely scene, with its pairs of deer and birds, reminds the hero of his own loneliness. The image of the beloved on the hero’s heart, between the folds of his gown, is symbolic of his devotion to her. The artist of this folio employed a rather rich palette with lavish use of gold. The figures are unusually tall with round faces.

A folio from a Nayak-Nayika series
Kotah, Rajasthan, c.1750
Size: 27 x 16 cm
Rao Madho Singh Museum Trust, City Palace, Kotah

This painting is from a Nayak-Nayika series, the borders of which remain unfinished. It shows Nayika going to keep her tryst with her lover, despite the dangers of the night such as snakes crawling in the woodland, one of which has coiled around her leg. The scene is set amid a grove lush with vegetation, while a small stream is flowing by the palace pavilion. The setting is reminiscent of the Umed Ganj pleasure palace situated eight miles east of Kotah. The hurried movement of the heroine is shown by the swing and sway of her orange skirt. There is a beautiful play of light and shade brought about by the contrast of dark sky and light foliage.

The series is dated to c.1750 on the basis of comparison with dated Kotah manuscripts such as the Dholta-Maru series of 1762. A number of khakhas (sketches) of this Nayak-Nayika series are in the Kotah royal collection.

Vishnu and Saraswati
A folio from the Rukmini-Parinaya series
Kotah, Rajasthan, c.1700
Size: 30 x 22 cm
Rao Madho Singh Museum Trust, City Palace, Kotah

The series to which this folio belongs is an early example of the Kotah kalam. It establishes the presence at the Kotah court of highly individualistic artists as well as the Mughal influence during the reign of Aurangzeb. This legendary scene depicts a king paying homage to a hermit seated on a bagh chhal in a lovely hermitage. The great respect shown by rulers to holy men can be sensed in this painting though it deals with a mythological theme. The presence of Vishnu and Saraswati is indicative of the auspiciousness of the occasion and their presence also signifies their showering blessings on the royal personage of the king. The elongation of the figures is a feature derived from Mughal painting during the reign of Aurangzeb.

Created by | Updated May 2016