Pendant Portrait of Jahangir with Jesus
Watercolor on Paper
Artist: Kailash Raj
7.5 inches X 11.5 inches
This excellent work of art represents one of the portrait-types pendant portraits, as the known scholar of Mughal art, Amina Okada, classified them, immensely popular at the court of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, and the Emperor himself valued them high, perhaps, because these small icons involved greater artistic skill. It seems Jahangir loyalists, considering their Emperor's love for them, and believing that he would like it, wore them as pendants. Thus, of all portrait-types these small icons were more akin to Jahangir, and in them, better reflected his taste. Discovering a personality with multi-dimensionality, such as that of Jahangir, on a small piece of paper was a challenging job of which Hashim was the master amongst his court artists. Hashim had the ability to treat his subject with great precision, and at the same time he could quite objectively discover his figure's realism, psychological insight and retrospection. He had unmatched skill to control each part. He elaborated margins and borders but in treating his main subject he was exceptionally concise, sober and to the point, which defined the power of his renditions. As in early Indian Chaurapanchasika tradition, he preferred drawing his figures against a monochromic background. This contemporary work of art brings Hashim back on canvas. Here is Hashim's Jahangir, as also his Jesus. Jahangir, the world commander as he thought of himself, is holding in one of his hands a green globe symbolising the world abounding in great prosperity. A large size halo with golden rays radiating from it reveals not so much his divine status as the frame of his mind, which regarded him not only the monarch of the world but also the highest amongst spiritual beings. In the one-and-a-half-inch icon there manifests all that defines Mughal grandeur, sophistication and taste, and all that defines Jahangir, within and without. An elderly bearded Jesus plodding his path to crucifixion, as he has been usually represented in votive art, was not acceptable to Hashim. To him, he was the timeless youth glowing with divine aura, beyond death and decay, much in the spirit of the myth relating to 'Descent to hell', where Satan, engaged in dialogue with Death, warns Death against Jesus who would break Death's copper gates not only to let himself out but also all holy souls. In the modeling of the figure of Jahangir there reflects a monarch's shrewdness and in that of Jesus a saint's simplicity and humility. As against the richly gold embroidered drapery adorning the window below Jahangir, the window frieze containing the image of Jesus is balanced by a simple latticed screen. But for its fresher synthetic colours and a fresher look, this work re-produces the Hashim's masterpiece of circa 1620. It uses the same colour scheme, similar designing motifs and patterns including calligraphy, and exactly same modeling. In precision, finesse, balance and contrast it is as accomplished as the painting by Hashim. The figures of Jahangir and Jesus are drawn against the monochromic black background. Against this black, the green used in Jahangir's turban and gown of Jesus, variedly used red, gold, yellow and various tints of pink, have amazing effect. As from pistils radiate petals and bloom into a flower, so radiate from the figures of Jahangir and Jesus, axis of the painting, first a gold streaked white frame, then the golden comprising holy text and floral arabesques, then the pink with floral designs, and finally, the broad margin consisting of large size flower plants. Except for black and a small stripe of red, the colours are used largely in their lighter tones. This colour choice, so characteristic of Jahangir's art, is another feature that takes the viewing eye to his era. This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.
The Mughal school of painting runs parallel to the Mughal dynasty. It came into prominence in the sixteenth century, during the reign of king Akbar. It reached its zenith under the patronage of Akbar’s grandson – king Jahangir. The reign of the latter’s successor king Shah Jahan saw its decline and finally under the unsympathetic Aurangzeb it breathed its last. Indeed, as a school of art, the duration of Mughal painting was a limited one, extending only over approximately two and a half centuries. Actually, it has often been referred to as not exactly a school, but rather an exceptionally brilliant phase in Indian art.
The roots of Mughal painting lay in Samarkand and Herat, where under the patronage of the Timurid kings, Persian art reached its apogee. Babur, a descendant of Timur, and the founder of the Mughal dynasty, speaks of a person named ‘Bihzad’ as ‘a most eminent painter’. It was with the descendants of Bihzad and the deep personal interest taken by Akbar, the grandson of king Babur, that the Mughal school of art started off with a flourish.
Regarding the aesthetics of Mughal painting, one exceptional feature is its commitment to realism or the delineation of likeness. The subjects were majorly drawn from the extremely rich and magnificent court life under the Mughals. That this was a flourishing art during Akbar’s reign is borne out by the list of more than forty painters found in a book written during his era.
However, it was under Akbar’s son Jehangir that Mughal painting gained its highest peaks. Not only portraits and hunting scenes, but also scientific studies of botany and natural history found favor with the artists under the king’s support. The Mughal painters were asked to paint unusual specimens of flora and fauna in their exact likeness. Some of these skilfully painted pictures have survived till today, narrating to us the uniqueness of those rich times.
Under the reign of Shajahan, son of Jahangir, the Mughal school of painting entered its decline. The actual treatment of the subject matter is replaced with more decorative embellishments like rich flowery borders etc. Under Shahjahan architecture scaled new peaks (Taj Mahal etc.), but painting deteriorated. Finally, with the rise of Aurangzeb, Mughal painting breathed its last.