In conjunction with the British Library’s Learning Team, we recently held a very successful study day: Mughal India: Art and Culture. To coincide with the event, we have installed three new ʻMughalʼ manuscripts in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. These are: A Royal copy of Nizami’s ‘Five poems’, dating from Herat, ca.1494 (Or. 6810, f. 3r), A mother rebukes her arrogant son, a copy of Saʻdi’s Būstān dated at Agra, 1629 (Add. 27262, f. 145r) and, the subject of my post today, Humayun received by the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp of Iran, from Abu’l-Fazl’s Akbarnāmah, dating from Agra, ca. 1602-3 (Or. 12988, f. 98r).
For many viewers, the subject of most Indian paintings is understandable even without a specialist’s knowledge of the identity and history of the figures portrayed. For example, images of a princely couple listening to music on a palace terrace can be appreciated without needing to know the historical or literary identity of the protagonists. Beyond this basic intelligibility, however, many works feature complex subject matter, symbolic nuances, and/or compositional substructures that require an in-depth explanation to understand their layers of meaning.
Inspired by the iconography and mythology of Western divinity and sovereignty featured in the European prints brought to India, the Mughals and other Islamic dynasties of India soon appropriated the visual attributes of the divine and the regal for their own glorification. Chief among these emulated personages were Solomon and David, kings of ancient Israel; Orpheus and the philosopher Plato, both legendary musicians and poets of ancient Greece; and Majnun, the famous Arabic poet and unconsummated paramour of his beloved Layla. The unifying thread in the stories of these influential personalities was that each was graced with the ability to tame and control animals by means of his musical ability and/or spiritual authority.
By Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
This copy of the Shāhnāmah is thought to date originally from the 15th century. Unfortunately it has no colophon but it was extensively refurbished in India at the beginning of the 17th century when the 90 illustrations were added. These are numbered consecutively 1-91, only lacking no. 37 which, together with a gap of about 150 verses, is missing at the beginning of the story of Bīzhan and Manīzhah between folios 201v and 202r. The manuscript was altered again in the first half of the 18th century when elaborate paper guards and markers were added. The magnificent decorated binding, however, dates from the early 17th century.
One of our most important Mughal manuscripts is Or.12076, the Razmnāmah (ʻBook of Warʼ), copied in AH 1007 (1598/99) and containing the concluding part, sections 14-18, of the Persian translation of the Sanskrit epic the Mahābhārata. It is currently on display at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, in the exhibition Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons, and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts curated by Amy S. Landau of the Walters Art Museum Baltimore where it was originally exhibited. As a result of the Library’s participation in the exhibition the whole volume has now been digitised and is available online for everyone to look at — whether they are lucky enough to be able to visit the exhibition or not!
See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2016/04/razmnamah-the-persian-mahabharata.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+asian-and-african+%28Asia+and+Africa%29#sthash.7d6yQFss.dpuf
Three interesting portraits on ivory of Mughal ladies of the imperial zenana were acquired by the Visual Arts section in 2012, now numbered Add.Or.5719-5721. All three were mounted in one frame with pasted down inscriptions below relating to the subject and the artist, while attached to the back of the frame were three envelopes which once contained the miniatures and which were written further particulars. The paintings were sold in Delhi in these envelopes in 1900 by Sultan Ahmad Khan, who styles himself the son of one painter Muhammad Fazl Khan and grandson of another painter Muhammad ‘Azim, both of whom are named as artists in the inscriptions. The purchaser must have put them into their present gilt frame and fortunately also preserved the various inscriptions and attestations. All three are supposed to be portraits of some of the wives of the Mughal Emperor Akbar II (r. 1806-37). For a more correct appreciation of who they might be, we rely on that invaluable on-line resource, The Royal Ark. None of these ladies’ names unfortunately appears among the numerous wives of Akbar II, but that does not necessarily detract from the validity of the inscriptions of artistic interest.
See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/12/artistic-visions-delhi-zenana.html#sthash.XpaRep9e.dpuf