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Culture and Society. Music and Art. Jawaharlal Nehru University. Using an SRA award, she visited London and Dublin to see and study some of the original manuscripts of the Akbarnama, a beautiful illustrated book commissioned by a Mughal emperor.

In this article, she explains how portraiture in the book is used to justify the sovereignty of the successors. In the closing years of the sixteenth century in India, there was an unexpected burst of portraits of medieval Indian men drawn from life that appeared in illustrated manuscripts, patronized by the third Mughal emperor 1 Akbar r.

Along with Persian epics, Akbar had the reigns of his ancestors written and compiled into histories, several copies of which he ordered to be produced into magnificent manuscripts. Akbar also ordered the history of his own reign to be chronicled, and Abul Fazl was chosen to write it. Abul Fazl took several years to complete it, finally presenting the Akbarnama Book of Akbar to the emperor in In this paper, I raise three questions about the portrait of Akbar in the Akbarnama and attempt to answer them through my research.

What was the significance of portraiture during the reign of Emperor Akbar? Which transcultural prototypes helped shape the portrait image of Emperor Akbar in the painted folios of the Akbarnama? Were there any differences between the portrait of Akbar illustrated during his reign and posthumous images illustrated during the reign of his son and successor, Jahangir r. These questions are relevant to my research on the portrait of Akbar, which occupies a significant position in the genre of portraiture, explored extensively during the reign of Akbar and his successors.

By raising these questions, I wish to trace how portraiture became a political tool for stating the ideology and sovereignty of Mughal emperors. Portraiture—that is, images of persons drawn from life—was introduced into manuscript art 8 in India during the reign of Emperor Akbar. The hundreds of portrait images of Akbar that were illustrated during his reign and during the reigns of his successors Jahangir r.

Akbar ascended the throne in at the age of 13, after the untimely death of his father, Humayun r. Trained in Persian manuscript art, they were two of the finest artists in the court of the Shah, having displayed their brilliance in the several manuscripts produced during the reign of Shah Tahmasp.

The artists brought with them a knowledge of Persian painting, which included portraiture learnt from the great master artist Bihzad — himself. Thus, the Persian iconographic canon that was in vogue in central Asia became the foundation of Mughal art, which originated during the reign of Emperor Akbar. Soon after ascending the throne, Akbar launched a massive imperial manuscript art project, recruiting hundreds of artists from regional centers in the sub-continent. Akbar also ordered portrait images of his courtiers to be drawn from life and assembled into an album for his perusal.

He further showed keen interest in Sufis and Indian holy men living in his realm and ordered their portraits to be illustrated. These portraits of Timurid sultans, Mughal emperors, Rajput nobility, and other ordinary men displayed in the albums produced for Akbar, along with his own portraits represented in the Akbarnama , must have been the largest collection of portraits of medieval men in India in the sixteenth century.

During my research, I studied the portraits of Akbar in the Akbarnama published in art history books and read essays written by Mughal scholars about portraiture in Mughal art. I was deeply influenced by the writings of Dr. Susan Stronge, especially her essay in which she categorized the images of the emperor shown in one codex into different genres, which helped shape the personality of Emperor Akbar. Stronge further divided the illustrations into separate categories and placed groups of images under these subcategories.

This exercise was very useful in that it enabled future scholars to study and compare the genres defined by Dr. The portrait of Akbar, indexing his particular characteristics, was used like a stencil in multiple compositions. Stronge argued that the paintings fell under five identifiable categories: the royal hunt, the depiction of treachery, scenes of prestige, battles, and the life of the king. After studying the portrait images of Akbar illustrated in the Akbarnama , I realized that these categories needed further research.

I questioned where these ideas originated from. My research led me to medieval Persian texts, imbued with tales of epic heroes and kings that were used as models for Timurid rulers of central Asia. The sultans of central Asia fashioned their biographies upon the lives and reigns of ancient heroes and kings narrated in Persian literature. Painted codices with portraits of Timurid sultans often had ruling sultans emulate figures of protagonists from ancient and medieval Persian texts.

Hence, I was able to connect several pieces of texts composed during medieval times with images painted during the Mughal dynasty, in which, like their Timurid ancestors, the Mughal emperors displayed themselves as heroes of ancient and medieval epics. The image of Akbar, categorized into different genres within one codex, was an amalgamation of several transcultural prototypes drawn from Persian, Indic, and European sources.

Two manuscripts of the original illustrated Akbarnamas , one illustrated in —95 and the second painted in —05, are now preserved in institutions outside India; the main bulk of the folios are preserved in the UK. Hence, I was very keen to avail myself of the Sylff Research Abroad fellowship to travel to the UK and study the original manuscripts. The Sylff Research Abroad award allowed me to realize a dream: to see and study sixteenth-century Persian manuscript illustrations produced during the reign of Akbar in India.

The original manuscripts of the Akbarnama , of which illustrations are preserved at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and 66 illustrations at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland, contain several minute details that can only be gauged with the naked eye.

The fellowship allowed me to travel to the UK and research primary material. In addition, I met several scholars of Mughal art, who shared their knowledge with me and discussed what is being currently researched on the subject. Along with the original folios of the Akbarnama , I studied more than illustrations painted during the Mughal period that are preserved in the archives of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Library, and the Chester Beatty Library.

I also researched Persian manuscripts illustrated during the Timurid and the Safavid periods in central Asia, which were the precursor to Mughal painting, and studied stylistic commonalities and differences between the Persian and Mughal manuscripts.

Directly accessing primary material containing portrait images of Emperor Akbar helped me analyze how the portrait of Akbar functioned differently for each emperor. Akbar wearing a halo. Akbar without a halo. According to my research of the primary material preserved at the Chester Beatty Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum, functions of portraiture differed between father and son, due to three factors.

Thus, the portrait of Akbar as depicted in illustrated folios addressed his audience with the visual lexicon developed by his ancestors, the Timurids of central Asia. They relied heavily on Persian literary sources, which were in circulation throughout the Persian-speaking world. Secondly, in the Persian tradition, the king had to display certain characteristics to project himself as a suitable ruler for his subjects. These characteristics were:. Akbar as a brave hero left , and Akbar as a just ruler right.

This finding helps me prove my argument that the portrait image of Akbar was remapped by Jahangir to suit a dynastic-ancestral image to legitimize his own rule. Illustrated manuscripts can tell us many aspects of human societies and how social relations were hinged upon a keen understanding between a ruler and his subjects.

During the reign of Akbar in India, the emperor followed a structure of protocol that included systems taken from many cultural sources and applied universally at the royal court.

The medium of portraiture, which formed the bulk of the images in Mughal art during the reigns of Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan, allows us a window by which we can not only study the physiognomic particularities of men belonging to a particular region, but also glimpse the popular models that were in vogue and which helped shape the portrait images of Mughal emperors, their coterie, and their subjects.

Furthermore, by studying the changes in the visual lexicon between portraits of emperors depicted during their lifetimes and those re-created during the reigns of their successors, we can trace the politics and ideology articulated by the ruling emperor through the medium of manuscript art.

Beach, Milo C. Goswamy, et al, eds. Crill, Rosemary and Kapil Jariwala, eds. Dimand, S. Losty, J. The Mughals ruled in India from , when Babur defeated the Lodhis and established the empire.

The Timurid princes were great patrons of Persian literature and patronized several brilliantly illustrated manuscripts during their reigns. Beatrice Forbes Manz notes that the cultural revival that began under Shahrukh r. Also see Thomas W. Lentz and Glenn D. He conquered India in and reigned there until his death in Illustrations made on paper were accompanied by Persian calligraphy written in text boxes within the composition. They were usually assembled into albums and bound with a leather cover, decorated with gold inscriptions and intricate designs.

Matthew T. Donde recently spent a total of three months October—December and March—April as subject expert, art historical researcher, and co-curator of an exhibition of Indian miniature paintings at Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Germany.

I think I have an original Akbar painting. I had it for about 8 months and I took the back off and it has all types of writing. Not sure of language. Please input characters displayed above. Portal Site. Culture and Society Music and Art. Dipanwita Donde Jawaharlal Nehru University. Guidelines for Writing a "Voices" Article. Leave a comment. Sylff Institution. First Name. Family Name. E-mail address. Required All comments will be verified by the sylff secretariat staff before being posted. E-mail address will be used by the secretariat only to communicate with the author and will not be published online.

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The History of Akbar, Volume 1

Marking a high point in a long, rich tradition of Persian historical writing, it served as a model for historians throughout the Persianate world. The work is at once a biography of the Mughal emperor Akbar r. The first volume details the birth of Akbar, his illustrious genealogy, and in particular the lives and exploits of his grandfather, Babur, and his father, Humayun, who laid the foundations of the Mughal Empire. The Persian text, presented in the Naskh script, is based on a careful reassessment of the primary sources. The Murty Classical Library of India makes available original texts and modern English translations of the masterpieces of literature and thought from across the whole spectrum of Indic languages over the past two millennia in the most authoritative and accessible formats on offer anywhere. MCLI volumes are available in India in both hardcover and paperback from amazon.


Encyclopædia Iranica

Culture and Society. Music and Art. Jawaharlal Nehru University. Using an SRA award, she visited London and Dublin to see and study some of the original manuscripts of the Akbarnama, a beautiful illustrated book commissioned by a Mughal emperor.


My Bonhams

The Akbarnama which translates to Book of Akbar , is the official chronicle of the reign of Akbar , the third Mughal Emperor r. It was written in Persian , the literary language of the Mughals, and includes vivid and detailed descriptions of his life and times. Like that, it was produced in the form of lavishly illustrated manuscripts. It is stated that the book took seven years to be completed. The original manuscripts contained many miniature paintings supporting the texts, thought to have been illustrated between c. After Akbar's death in , the manuscript remained in the library of his son, Jahangir r.



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