History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2005: Q.5 (c)

Q.5 (c) Write a short Essay on: “Mughal painting” 


The Mughal School of painting represents one of the most significant phases in the history of Indian art. The style of painting developed during the Mughal period manifested a happy blending of Persian and Indian painting. Both of these styles of painting had made remarkable progress independently of each other. Initially, Persia adopted the art of painting from China and Mongolia. But, later on, Persian painting made itself free from foreign influences.

1) Babur:

Babur, the founder of the Mughal rule in India was a keen observer of the beauties of nature. He was great lover of painting. He was a great admirer of the paintings of Bihzad, a renowned painter in the court of Sultan Hussein of Heart in the fifteenth century. Babur brought to India a number of paintings found in the library of his ancestors, the Timurids in Samarqand. Due to his preoccupation with the invasions and the conquests and lack of sufficient time, Babur could not devote enough time and attention to the development of painting in India.

2) Humayun:

It was Humayun, son and successor of Babur, who actually introduced the new style of Persian painting in India. Humayun came in close touch with the Persian school of painting during his exile to that country. In Persia, Humayun came in contact with two disciples of the famous Persian painter Bihzad. They were Abdus Samad and Sayyid Ali Tabrizi. They accompanied Humayun to India and laid the foundation of Mughal School of painting. Humayun assigned them the task of illustrating the famous book Dastan-i-Amir Hamzah in twelve volumes. A number of Hindu artists were also associated with this magnum opus. However, this work could not be completed in the reign of Humayun. Akbar continued the work under the supervision of Abdus Samad and Sayyid Ali Tabrizi.

3) Akbar:

When Akbar became the emperors, he encouraged painters at his court and helped in the growth of this art. Under him the art of painting underwent radical changes. He established a separate department (karkhana) of painting, under Abdus Samad.

Akbar commissioned the painters not only to illustrate various books, but also to prepare frescoes on palace-walls in Fatehpur Sikri. He invited renowned painters from China and Persia and employed the best talents of the country, both Muslim and Hindu at his court. He assigned them work according to their individual taste and aptitude. According to Abul Fazal more than a hundred painters became famous masters of the art. The masterpieces of the painter’s art at the new capital, Fatehpur Sikri were produced by the joint efforts of Muslim artists trained by Abdus Samad, and of Hindu artists.

There were at least one hundred good painters at the court of Akbar among whom seventeen were prominently recognized by the emperor. Many of these artists were experts in illustrating books on history and other literary works. Various artists illustrated
the most famous historical work of Abul Fazal, Akbar Nama. A large number of books, which were translated from Sanskrit into Persian were illustrated mostly by Hindu artists. These works include the Razm Nama, Persian translation of the Mahabharata.

During the reign of Akbar the art of painting encompassed a wider scope. Varieties of subjects found expression in the art of paining:

  1. Besides, miniature paintings illustrating various works of literature, other subjects, such as court scenes, hunting scenes and battle scenes were painted.
  2. With the passage of time individual portrait paintings were given greater attention.
  3. The fresco painting on the pattern of Ajanta, developed during the reign of Akbar was another important contribution of the artists.
  4. Akbar was introduced to the European style of painting through the Jesuit priests, whom he had invited to his court from Goa. The Jesuit priests presented him with some beautiful pictures of Jesus Christ, Mary and Moses. However, the European influence on Mughal paintings could be seen in the works of painters during the reign of Jahangir.

4) Jahangir:

During the reign of Jahangir the Mughal painting reached its zenith. During his period the Persian and Indian style of painting were fully synthesized. Jahangir was not only interested in painting but was also its keen observer and critic. He possessed knowledge of the art.

He wrote in his biography, Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri: “As regards myself, my liking for painting and my practice in judging it have arrived at such a point that when any work is brought before me, either of a deceased artist or of those of the present day, without the names being told to me, I can say at the spur of the moment that it is the work of such and such a man. And if there be a picture containing many portraits, and each face be the work of a different master, I can discover which face is the work of each of them. If any person has put in the eye and eyebrow of a face, I can perceive whose work the original face is, and who has painted the eye and eyebrows.

Though, the above passage sounds like an exaggerated boast, we have to accept the fact that the emperor was not only interested in painting but also had a discriminating eye towards painting.

Jahangir attracted many artists at his court. He also got completed the works taken up by the artists during the lifetime of his father. He gave generous patronage to various artists. Some of the prominent painters at Jahangir’s court were Aqa Raza of Herat and his son Abul Hasan, Mansur, Muhammad Nadir, Inayat, Govardhan, Padaratha, and Bishan Das.

Jahangir was a man of aesthetic taste and loved varieties of paintings. He was a lover of nature and ordered that unusual flowers, rare birds and animals should be painted. Mansur was well known for his floral paintings. The Red Blossoms is the best known of his paintings. Padaratha, Inayat and Mansur had deep knowledge of birds and animals.

It was during Jahangir’s reign the Indian painting became free from foreign influence. Jahangir also developed a great fancy for portrait paintings, which was initiated by Akbar earlier. A large number of portraits of the emperor and the important nobles of his reign were painted.

During this period the technique of group portrait was also developed. Some of the finest paintings of Jahangir’s reign relate to the activities of the emperor, such as hunting, battle and court scenes.

5) Shah Jahan:

Shah Jahan was more interested in architecture than painting. Yet, he provided patronage to painting. Some of the famous painters of Jahangir’s time continued to work under the patronage of Shah Jahan.

Even during the reign of Shah Jahan portrait painting was popular. Several portrait paintings of the emperor and his important nobles were executed. There are also portraits of beautiful ladies, including what appear to be Nurjahana and Mumtaz Mahal. Some of the miniature paintings of Shah Jahan’s reign manifest the splendour of the Mughal court or represent the outdoor activities of the emperor such as hunting, meeting dervishes etc.

The art of colour combination and portrait painting gradually declined during the later part of Shah Jahan’s reign. However, the art of designing and pencil drawing developed during his reign. But, the number of painters reduced at his court, and, therefore, the art certainly declined during his rule.

6) Aurangzeb:

Aurangzeb, who succeeded Shah Jahan was a religious fanatic. He withdrew the royal patronage, which was given to the artists by his predecessors. He dismissed the artists from his court and even destroyed certain paintings because Islam prohibited the practice of this art. The art of painting, thus, received a great setback at the court of Aurangzeb.

However, this action of Aurangzeb had certain indirect advantages. The painters dismissed from the emperor’s court found shelter in the courts of different Hindu and Muslim provincial rulers. It resulted in the growth of different regional school of art and brought this art closer to the people.

Among the Later Mughal emperors, some tried to encourage painting. However, they lacked sufficient resources. Thus, the Mughal School of painting received a serious setback
after the rule of Shah Jahan and continued to deteriorate afterwards. During the later part of the eighteenth century it was influenced by the European painting, which harmed it further, and it lost its originality.

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