Wednesday, September 9, 2015

14 Christian-themed Mughal miniatures from the courts of Akbar and Jehangir

A wide variety of Christian images and iconography entered the Mughal artistic milieu during the second half of the sixteenth century through European prints and illustrated Bibles brought to India by Jesuit missionaries and other European travellers.

Mughal Emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605) holds a religious assembly in the Ibadat Khana (House of Worship) in Fatehpur Sikri
the two men dressed in black are the Jesuit missionaries Rodolfo Acquaviva and Francisco Henriques
illustration to the Akbarnama
miniature painting by Nar Singh
ca. 1605

The Virgin Mary holding a book
attributable to Basawan, Mughal, circa 1585-90
brush and ink heightened with gouache and gold on paper, laid down on stout paper
drawing: 5.9 by 4.1cm.
leaf: 11.9 by 9.3cm.

Mother and Child with a White Cat
Attributed to Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624) or Basawan
San Diego Museum of Art

The imagery was enthusiastically taken up by Akbar's artists, encouraged by the emperor himself, who was fascinated by Christianity and other religions and by Christian and European works of art. Basawan was among the artists influenced by this development, and western traditions of realism, portraying character and the use of advanced perspective were soon incorporated into his style. 

Mother Mary and Child Christ
Mid 18th century, late Mughal, Muhammad Shah period

This miniature represents mother Mary with child Jesus in her lap and a number of people around. They include a bearded tall male in long saffron gown with green neck and button-loops characteristic to the costumes of the persons in medieval Christian hierarchy, and an alike clad and long haired female: perhaps the persons from ecclesiastic order representing the celestial beings believed to emerge with gifts when the Holy child was born, a maiden with a dark face wearing a heavy green turban on her head and a thick green sheet on her back examining the child : perhaps one from the nursing line, and yet another woman with hardly any specificity behind mother Mary, obviously representing the common devotee.

Mughal depiction c 1630 of Virgin Mary and Jesus (J.14,2). British Library:
Mughal depiction of the Virgin Mary and Jesus
c 1630 
British Library

Depictions of the Madonna reading a book, usually with the Christ Child on her lap, abound in European art of the sixteenth century, but in addition to these mention should be made of the numerous series of The Liberal Arts produced by European engravers in the sixteenth century, many of which featured female figures holding books, as well as the Puritas Regia frontispiece in Plantin's Royal Bible (the Polyglot Bible), which also shows a female figure holding a book. It was a copy of this edition of the Bible that the Jesuits presented to Emperor Akbar.

Adoration of the Christ Child
ca. 1630
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
H: 15.6 W: 11.0 cm 
Golconda, Deccan, India 

The presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem, 40 days after his birth, 
c. 1600-1610
Possibly painted in Bijapur
Victoria and Albert Museum

Virgin & Child, 1600-25:
Virgin and Child dating to 1600-25. Mary is happily watching over an exploratory baby Jesus, who holds her hand and grasps flowers

The Virgin Mary and the Miracle of Changing Water into Wine
The Virgin Mary and the Miracle of Changing Water into Wine
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
H x W: 23.2 x 15 cm (9 1/8 x 5 7/8 in)
Probably Bundi, Rajasthan, India
18th century

A crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint Anne
from Akbar's court
Aga Khan Museum

The ascension of Jesus in the guise of a priest
Dastan-i Masih
San Diego Museum of Art

Keshav Das, St. Jerome, 1580-85:
Keshav Das
St. Jerome, 1580-85

“[Keshav Das] merged two sets of European imagery, the drunken Noah in slumber and the studious Saint Jerome holding a book of learning. Das was exploring a painterly technique more akin to European oil painting than to Indian watercolor, and the atmospheric haze of the distant city vista, again a gesture to European conventions, serves to heighten the dreamlike quality of Saint Jerome’s slumber.”

Tobias and the Angel
Attributable to Manohar, Mughal, circa 1610
drawing: 11 by 6.5cm.
leaf: 35.3 by 26.5 cm

Brush and ink heightened with gold and colour on paper, laid down on an album page with inner borders of gold scrolling flowers, wider outer margins filled with a repeating flower pattern in gold
Tobias and a seated angel, attributable to Manohar, Mughal, circa 1590 gouache heightened with gold on paper, laid down on an album page with green outer margin filled with chinoiserie-style foliate scrolls, inscribed on mount above miniature with the title in nasta’liq script; and above and below miniature, with verses in Persian painting: 14.7 by 10.4cm. leaf: 34.5 by 22.8cm.:
Tobias and a seated angel
attributable to Manohar, Mughal, circa 1590
34.5 by 22.8cm.

Gouache heightened with gold on paper, laid down on an album page with green outer margin filled with chinoiserie-style foliate scrolls, inscribed on mount above miniature with the title in nasta’liq script; and above and below miniature, with verses in Persian.

In the Biblical story (Book of Tobit, chapters 5-6), the young Tobias, son of Tobit, is sent by his father from Nineveh to the Median city of Rages (modern Rayy) to collect a debt. The angel Raphael, disguised in human form, offers to accompany Tobias, an offer readily accepted by both father and son. They set out, and on reaching the river Tigris, Tobias goes to the water's edge to wash, where he is confronted by a huge fish. The angel advises him to catch the fish by the gills and bring it ashore, which Tobias does. On the angel's advice he then guts the fish, preserves the heart, liver and gall bladder for warding off evil spirits and cooks the rest of the fish. More

Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings
From 1615 until 1618
Medium opaque watercolor
gold and ink on paper
Height: 25.3 cm (10 in). Width: 18 cm (7.1 in)
Freer Gallery of Art

If the Jesuits still retained any hope of converting either emperor, this painting by Bichitr would have snuffed that out. The painting, adorned with naked and clothed European cherubs  shows Jehangir snubbing King James I and VI of England in favour of a Sufi sheikh.

Jahangir by Hashim c. 1615-1620
Jesus by Abu’l-Hasan
c. 1615-1620
Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

Acknowledgment: Caravaggista, Scroll.inSotheby’s

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