Wednesday, September 9, 2015

16 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, ca. 1605
The two men dressed in black are the Jesuit missionaries Rodolfo Acquaviva and Francisco Henriques
illustration to the Akbarnama

In his eagerness to learn about different religions, Akbar built hall of prayer at Fatehpur sikri in 1575 known as the Ibadat Khana. At this place, he invited selected mystics, intellectuals and theologians, and held discussions on religious and spiritual themes. He invited scholars belonging to various religions such as Hinduism, Islam , Zoroastrianism , Christianity and even atheists. He conducted religious debates with these people. They visited Ibadat Khana and discussed their religious belief with Akbar. The result of these discussions at the Hall of Prayer led them to the conclusion that all religions lead to the same goal. More on the Ibadat Khana

Rodolfo Acquaviva (2 October 1550 – 25 July 1583) was an Italian Jesuit missionary and priest in India who served the court of Akbar the Great from 1580 to 1583. He was killed in 1583 and beatified in 1893. More on Rodolfo Acquaviva

Henrique Henriques (1520–1600) was a Portuguese Jesuit priest and missionary who spent most of his life in missionary activities in South India. After his initial years in Goa he moved to Tamil Nadu where he mastered Tamil and wrote several books including a dictionary. He is considered to be the first European Tamil scholar.

He strongly believed that books of religious doctrines should be in local languages and to this end he wrote books in Tamil. His efforts made Tamil the first non-European language to be printed in moveable type. Hence he is sometimes called The Father of the Tamil Press. After his death his mortal remains were buried in Our Lady of Snows Basilica in Tuticorin, India. More on Henrique Henriques

Attributable to Basawan, Mughal
The Virgin Mary holding a book, 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.
Private collection

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. More on this work

Basāwan, or Basāvan (flourished 1580–1600), was an Indian miniature painter in the Mughal style. He was known by his contemporaries as a skilled colorist and keen observer of human nature, and for his use of portraiture in the illustrations of Akbarnama, Mughal Emperor, Akbar's official Biography, which is seen as an innovation in Indian art. More on Basāwan

Attributed to Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624) or Basawan
Mother and Child with a White Cat,  ca. 1598
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
8 9/16 x 5 3/8 in. (21.7 x 13.7 cm)
San Diego Museum of Art

The chromatic subtlety, beautifully realized drapery, and sophisticated handling of linear perspective are worthy of both these artists. The subject matter clearly is inspired by multiple European models; the woman’s windswept drapery echoes that of the Pietas Regia depicted on the second frontispiece of the Royal Polyglot Bible, which was adapted to a reclining nursing posture, hence prompting the Virgin and Child identification. More on this work

Manohar Das, also Manohar or Manuhar, (active 1582–1624) was an Indian Hindu painter in the Mughal style.

Manohar's father Basawan was a master painter in the Mughal emperor's court, where Manohar grew up. His father most likely instructed him, and later Manohar became a court painter as well. His earliest works were painted for Akbar, and then later he was in the service of Akbar's son and successor Jahangir. Manohar's works frequently depicted the royal families and life at court. Some of his works can be found at the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. More on Manohar Das

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. 

Mid 18th century, late Mughal, Muhammad Shah period
Mother Mary and Child Christ
I have no further description, at this time

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. More on this work

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.

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

This watercolor painting depicts the Nativity, or birth of Jesus, celebrated at Christmas. The artist adapted the scene for the South Indian community. Notice Mary’s pierced nose, and how she and a number of the others present still wear bindis. Amidst the offerings on the ground, we even spy a bowl of pineapples!

Possibly painted in Bijapur
The presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem, 40 days after his birth, c. 1600-1610
Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper
Height: 24cm, Width: 18cm
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
Probably Bundi, Rajasthan, India, c. 18th century
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)
I have no further description, at this time

A crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint Anne
from Akbar's court, c.1600
Aga Khan Museum

Dastan-i Masih
The ascension of Jesus in the guise of a priest, c. 1602-05
San Diego Museum of Art
I have no further description, at this time

The Dastan-i Masih or ‘the Story of Christ’ was composed by the Jesuit missionary Father Jerome Xavier at the request of the Mughal Emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605). Akbar is well-known for his interest in other faiths. Father Jerome led the third Jesuit mission to the court of Akbar following a specific request from the Emperor. Father Jerome arrived at Lahore in May 1595 having spent the previous year mastering Persian. He used his linguistic abilities to compose a ‘Story of Christ’, recounting the life of Jesus and the deeds ascribed to him by popular legend of the time. The text was formally presented to Akbar in 1602. Father Jerome remarked that copies of the text were already being made before it had been presented to the Emperor. More on Dastan-i Masih

Keshav Das, St. Jerome, 1580-85:
Keshav Das (active ca. 1570–1604)
Saint Jerome, ca. 1580–85
Opaque watercolor on paper
6 11/16 x 3 15/16 in. (17 x 10 cm)
Mat size: 21 1/4 x 16 5/16 in. (54 x 41.5 cm)
Lent by Musée Guimet, Paris

This work, signed “Kesu Das,” was adapted from a European source, in all probability an engraving by Mario Cartaro published in 1564. The ultimate source of Keshav Das’s Saint Jerome is Antique Roman imagery of Neptune, their god of the sea. Michelangelo’s drunken Noah in the Sistine Chapel (completed 1512) represents a famous moment in this figure composition’s evolution and a source accessible to Cartaro in Rome some fifty years later. Following Cartaro’s engraving, the Mughal artist 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. More on this work

Jerome (Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, c.  347 – 30 September 420) was a priest, confessor, theologian and historian. He was the son of Eusebius, born at Stridon, a village near Emona on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia, then part of northeastern Italy. He is best known for his translation of most of the Bible into Latin (the translation that became known as the Vulgate), and his commentaries on the Gospels. His list of writings is extensive.
The protégé of Pope Damasus I, who died in December of 384, Jerome was known for his teachings on Christian moral life, especially to those living in cosmopolitan centers such as Rome. In many cases, he focused his attention to the lives of women and identified how a woman devoted to Jesus should live her life. This focus stemmed from his close patron relationships with several prominent female ascetics who were members of affluent senatorial families.
He is recognised as a Saint and Doctor of the Church by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Anglican Communion. His feast day is 30 September. More on Jerome

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

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 gallbladder for warding off evil spirits and cooks the rest of the fish.

In this version the main figure has become female, has no angel's wings and lifts her skirt in a rather un-angelic manner, while the smaller figure of the young Tobias is depicted semi-nude, wearing a Bhil skirt and sporting angel's wings. More on this work

Attributable to Manohar, Mughal, circa 1590
Tobias and a seated angel
Gouache and ink on paper
34.5 by 22.8cm.
Private collection

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.

The European iconographic sources for this work are not only the Biblical story itself, but also images such as Venus with Cupid at her feet. In addition, there are two Persian literary sources that may have informed the present composition, one is a scene in the Kalila wa Dimnah (Fables of Bidpai, Anwar-i Suhaili) in which a fisherman offers a hermaphrodite fish to a seated king.

The younger figure's small wings are derived from an image of Cupid or a putti/cherubim. The small figure's essential nakedness is also related to an image of Cupid than Tobias. The feathered covering of the bodies of both figures probably also derives from European imagery, in which angels were occasionally depicted wearing suits of feathers (thought possibly to derive from costumes worn by late-medieval actors in religious dramas), and the penitent Mary Magdalen was sometimes shown wearing a feather-like suit of hair in German works of the late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries. More on this work

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 on Book of Tobit

Bichitr
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)
The Smithsonian's Museums of Asian 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.

Bichitr
Detail, 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)
The Smithsonian's Museums of Asian Art

From top to bottom, in order of importance, Ottoman Sultan, King James I of England, and the artist Bichtir (detail), Bichitr, Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings from the "St. Petersburg Album," 1615-1618, opaque watercolor, gold and ink on paper, 18 x 25.3 cm (Freer|Sackler: The Smithsonian's Museums of Asian Art). More on this painting

Bichitr (fl. 17th century) was an Indian painter during the Mughal period, patronized by the emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan.

The earliest known painting of his is a mature work from c. 1615. He was possibly still active in 1660. Britannica notes that his "court style may have been the most brilliant of all the Mughal painters", with "faultless technique and majestic formality." Influenced by his studies of European artworks, Bichtir incorporated figures with shadows, Western perspective, and putti into his work. More on Bichitr 

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

Jahangir stands in a window wearing a green turban and a jama embroidered
with purple crocuses. A cameo hangs from ropes of pearl necklaces he fingers and in his other hand he holds a globe; below the young Jesus leans out of a similar window carrying a small cross 


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2 comments:

  1. You forgot the painting of Jahangir with the Madonna. I would love to read more about the soft spot Mughals had for Christianity.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your note! I originally posted this in 2017! So I've tried to update the art and the story... Hope it is better now!? Henry

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