Water Color Painting on Paper
6 inch x 7.5 inch
This ovally framed portrait is of the Mughal emperor Shahjahan, the builder of the Tajmahal . He is the only one of the Great Mughals to have lived to the greatest of grandeur and to the worst of grief, achieved the highest of glory and the lowest of gloom. This depiction closely represents his likeness, as has been recorded in his contemporary portraits. The National Museum, New Delhi, has in its collection a 1616-17 portrait of Shahjahan by Nadir-al-Zaman-Abul Hasan, inscribed in Shah Jahan's own hand, "A good likeness of me in my 25th year". The portrait here, save that it is a bearded Shahjahan of later days and has a somewhat different styled turban - a mix of Jehangari and his own styles, has a close resemblance to his authentic likeness. Shahjahan was a visionary, which his eyes, both in his contemporary 1616-17 portrait and in this present one, reveal. The sharpness of lines and over-all delineation, which the time and chemical properties of colors have adversely affected in the earlier portrait, has been somewhat made up in this portrait. He is presented here with a sharply pointed nose, a well trimmed moustache curving downwards, thoughtful eyes, and prominently delineated ears with an upward thrust. These, and the scarf on his shoulders, are characteristic features of most portraits of Shahjahan. Rubies, emeralds, pearls, and sapphires and diamonds to some extent, seem to have been his chosen stones. By assimilating all these features in his portrayal, the artist has reached almost near his real likeness. Both the oval mount and the rectangular frame are embellished with floral designs gorgeously laid in gold, which constitutes a characteristic feature of the Mughal art style, post Jehangir. Jehangir's third son Khurram Shihab al-Din Muhammad, who ruled as Shahjahan from 1628 to 1657, was born in 1592 to a Rajput queen of Jehangir from Marwar. When twenty, he was married to Arjumand Banu Begum renamed later as Mumtaz Mahal. History bears testimony to Shahjahan's two passions, one for his wife Mumtaz Mahal and the other for architecture. The Tajmahal stands as the highest monument of love. Built in the memory of his beloved Mumtaz Mahal, it combines both his infatuations - architecture and his mad yearnings for Mumtaz, the companion of his struggles, woes, and miseries in his adverse days. Shahjahan had not only led the Mughal Empire to greater geography, but also to far greater cultural heights. But in an ironical twist of faith, this cultured and romantic Mughal had to suffer during his last phase at the much uncultured and brutal hands of his own orthodox and power greedy son, Aurangzeb. Shahjahan passed away in humiliating captivity at Agra fort, in his own creation, the Musammam Burz, gazing at The Tajmahal with his fading vision, tossing his restless head in the lap of his daughter Jahanara, who had refused a part in her brother Aurangzeb's magnificent empire, and had preferred to serve her father in his last days. Description by Dr. Daljeet.Dr. Daljeet is Curator, National Mueseum of india, New Delhi.
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.