The Imperial Image
By Milo Cleveland Beach
Paintings for the Mughal Court
Books have been treasured for centuries in the Islamic world, as precious objects worthy of royal admiration. This was especially true in Muslim India, where generations of Mughal emperors commissioned and collected volumes of richly illuminated manuscripts and lavishly illustrated folios. They assembled workshops of the leading artists and calligraphers to produce the books that filled their extensive libraries. Today, those works remain a vibrant part of India’s cultural and artistic history in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
In this revised and expanded edition of his popular 1981 book, Dr Milo Beach presents the superb collection of Mughal painting in the Freer Gallery of Art. He adds many of the outstanding works that entered the collection with the opening of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in 1987. Together, the Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Smithsonian’s museums of Asian art, have the distinction of being one of the world’s leading repositories of Mughal art. An introductory essay examines the Mughal art of the book and traces the contributions of a succession of rulers in Muslim India. Brief artist biographies and an extensive bibliography complete this updated volume.
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Allegorical representation of Emperor Jahangir and Shah Abbas of Persia from the St. Petersburg Album
ca. 1618; margins 1747–48
Abu'l Hasan b. 1588 or 1589)
Reign of Jahangir
Opaque watercolor, ink, silver and gold on paper
H: 23.8 W: 15.4 cm
Copyright © 2012 Smithsonian Institution
Jahangir, on the right, hugs Shah Abbas, the Safavid ruler of the Persian empire. They stand on top of the world, on the backs of a lion and a lamb. A lion and a lamb together represents peace and harmony. This image suggests that the two rulers are at peace with one another. It also suggests, due to the submissive posture of Shah Abbas, that Jahangir, the Mughal Indian emperor, is in charge here. He is the one that stands on top of the world. Shah 'Abbas is secondary.
Iran was traditionally allied with Mughal India against the Uzbeks, who coveted the province of Khorasan. The Mughal emperor Humayun had given Abbas’ grandfather, Shah Tahmasp, the province of Kandahar as a reward for helping him back to his throne. In 1590, profiting from the confusion in Iran, Humayun’s successor Akbar seized Kandahar. Abbas continued to maintain cordial relations with the Mughals, while always asking for the return of Kandahar. Finally, in 1620, a diplomatic incident in which the Iranian ambassador refused to bow down in front of the Emperor Jahangir led to war. India was embroiled in civil turmoil and Abbas found he only needed a lightning raid to take back Kandahar in 1622. After the conquest, he was very conciliatory to Jahangir, claiming he had only taken back what was rightly his and disavowing any further territorial ambitions. Jahangir was not appeased but he was unable to recapture the province.