THE MUGHAL SCHOOL (1560-1800 A.D.)

The origin of the Mughal School of Painting is considered to be a landmark in the history of painting in India. With the establishment of the Mughal empire, the Mughal School of painting originated in the reign of Akbar in 1560 A.D. Emperor Akbar was keenly interested in the art of painting and architecture. While a boy he had taken lessons in drawing. In the beginning of his rule an ateliar of painting was established under the supervision of two Persian masters, Mir Sayyed Ali and Abdul Samad Khan, who were originally employed by his father Humayun. A large number of Indian artists from all over India were recruited to work under the Persian masters.

The Mughal style evolved as a result of a happy synthesis of the indigenous Indian style of painting and the Safavid school of Persian painting. The Mughal style is marked by supple naturalism based on close observation of nature and fine and delicate drawing. It is of an high aesthetic merit. It is primarily aristocratic and secular.

An illustrated manuscript of the Tuti-nama in the Cleveland Museum of Art (USA) appears to be the first work of the Mughal School. The style of painting in this manuscript shows the Mughal style in its formative stage. Shortly after that, between 1564-69 A.D. was completed a very ambitious project in the form of Hamza-nama illustrations on cloth, originally consisting of 1400 leaves in seventeen volumes. Each leaf measured about 27″x20″. The style of Hamza-nama is more developed and refined than that of the Tuti-nama.

Akbar’s return, Mughal painting from Ain-i-Akbari

Hamza – nama illustration on cloth, Mughal School of Painting

The Hamza-nama illustrations are in a private collection in Switzerland. It shows Mihrdukht shooting arrows at the bird on a multi-staged minaret, from the upper storey of a pavilion. In this miniature one can observe that the architecture is Indo-Persian, the tree types are mainly derived from the Deccani painting and female types are adapted from the earlier Rajasthani paintings, Women are wearing four comered pointed skirts and transparent muslim veils. Turbans worn by men are small and tight, typical of the Akbar period.

The Mughal style was further influenced by the European paintings which came in the Mughal court, and absorbed some of the Westem techniques like shading and perspective.

The other important manuscripts illustrated during the period of Akbar are the Gulistan of Sadi dated 1567 in the British Museum, London, the Anwari-Suhavli (a book of fables) dated 1570 in the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, another Gulistan of Sadi in the Royal Asiatic Society Library copied at Fatehpur Sikri in 1581 by Muhammad Hussain al-Kashmiri, a Diwan of the poet Amir Shahi in the Bibliotheque Nationale, of the Diwan of Hafiz, one divided between the British Museum and the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin and the second in the Persian section of the Chester Beatty Library, another manuscript of the Tuti-nama in the same Library, theRazm-nama (Persian translation of the Mahabharata) in the Maharaja of Jaipur Museum, Jaipur, the Baharistan of Jami dated 1595 in the Bodleian Library, the Darab-nama in the British Museum, the Akbar-nama (circa 1600) in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the Tarikh-i-Alfi dated 1596 A.D. in the Gulistan Library in Tehran, a number of the Babar-nama, a manuscript executed in the last decade of the 16th century, the Twarikh-e-Khandane Taimuria in the Khuda Baksh Library, Patna, the Jog Vashisht dated 1602 in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin etc. Moreover, a number of paintings of court and hunting scenes and portraits were also executed during the period of Akbar.

Peacocks, Mughal School of painting

Portrait of Jahangir, Miniature painting, Mughal School of painting

The list of Akbar’s court painters includes a large number of names. Some of the famous painters other than the two Persian masters already mentioned are Dasvanth, Miskina, Nanha, Knha, Basawan, Manohar, Doulat, Mansur, Kesu, Bhim Gujarati, Dharam Das, Madhu, Surdas, Lal, Shankar Goverdhan and Inayat.

Under Jahangir, painting acquired greater charm, refinement and dignity. He had great fascination for nature and took delight in the portraiture of birds, animals and flowers. Some important manuscripts illustrated during his period are, an animal fable book called Ayar-i-Danish, the leaves of which are in the Cowasji Jahangir collection, Bombay and the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, and the Anwar-i-sunavli, another fable book in the British Museum, London, both executed between 1603-10, some miniatures in the Gulistan and a Diwan of Hafiz both in the British Museum. Besides a number of durbar scenes, portraits, bird, animal and flower studies were also executed during his period. The famous painters of Jahangir are Aqa Riza, Abul Hasan, Mansur, Bishan Das, Manohar, Goverdhan, Balchand, Daulat, Mukhlis, Bhim and Inayat.

The portrait of Jahangir illustrated is a typical example of miniature executed during the period of Jahangir. This miniature is in the collection of the National Museum, New Delhi. It shows Jahangir holding a picture of the Virgin Mary in his right hand. The portrait is remarkable for its superb drawing and fine modelling and realism. There is liberal use of gold colour on the borders which are decorated with floral designs. Text in Persian appears along the border. The portrait is assigned to 1615-20 A.D. Following the example of the Mughal Emperor the courtiers and the provincial officers also patronised painting. They engaged artists trained in the Mughal technique of painting. But the artists available to them were of inferior merit, those who could not seek employment in the Imperial Atelier which required only first-rate artists. The works of such painters are styled as “Popular Mughal” or ‘Provincial Mughal’ painting. This style of painting has all important characteristics of the Imperial Mughal painting but is inferior in quality. Some notable examples of the Popular Mughal painting are a series of the Razm-nama dated 1616 A.D., a series of the Rasikapriya (1610-1615) and a series of the Ramayana of circa 1610 A.D., in several Indian and foreign museums.

An example from a series of the Ramayana of the early 17th century in the typical popular Mughal style, from the collection of the National Museum, New Delhi. It shows a fight between the armies of Rama and Ravana in Lanka. Rama with his brother Lakshmana is seen in the foreground to the left while Ravana is seen in his court conversing with the demon chiefs inside the golden fort. The drawing is fine but not as refined as observed in the Imperial Mughal painting. The human facial type, demons, the tree types and the treatment of rocks are all in the Mughal manner. The miniature is marked by the spirit of action and dramatic movement created in the fighting scene.

Under Shah Jahan the Mughal painting maintained its fine quality. But the style, however, became over-ripe during the later period of his rule. Portraiture was given considerable attention by his painters. The well-known artists of his period are Bichiter, Chaitaraman, Anup Chattar, Mohammed Nadir of Samarquand, Inayat and Makr. Apart from portraiture, other paintings showing groups of ascetics and mystics and a number of illustrated manuscripts were also executed during his period. Some noteworthy examples of such manuscripts are the Gulistan and the Bustan of Sadi, copied for the emperor in the first and second years of his reign and the Shah Jahan Nama 1657, at Windsor Castle.

A miniature in the collection of the National Museum depicts a gathering of Sufis (Muslim divines) who are seen seated in an open space and engaged in discussion. It displays supple naturalism of the Mughal style of the Shah Jahan period. The drawing is refined and the colours have subdued tones. The background is green and the sky is in golden colour. The borders show floral designs in golden colour. The miniature is assigned to circa 1650 A.D.

Shahjahan on a globe, Mughal School of painting

Aurangzeb was a puritan and therefore did not encourage art. Painting declined during his period and lost much of its earlier quality. A large number of court painters migrated to the provincial courts.

During the period of Bahadur Shah, there was a revival of the Mughal painting after the neglect shown by Aurangzeb. The style shows an improvement in quality.

After 1712 A.D. the Mughal painting again started deteriorating under the later Mughals. Though retaining the outer form it became lifeless and lost inherent quality of the earlier Mughal art.

Source: CCRT