Mughal painting

Mughal painting
Abu al-Hasan's life-size painting of the Emperor Jahangir.
Babur Receives a Courtier, 1589, by Farrukh Baig
17th-century Mughal painting
A girl with Parrot
Shahjahan on globe, mid-17th century
Painting by Ustad Mansur (died after 1621)

Mughal painting is a particular style of South Asian painting, generally confined to miniatures either as book illustrations or as single works to be kept in albums, which emerged from Persian miniature painting, with Indian Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist influences, and developed largely in the court of the Mughal Empire (16th - 19th centuries), and later spread to other Indian courts, both Muslim and Hindu, and later Sikh.



There was already a Muslim tradition of miniature painting under the Sultanate of Delhi which the Mughals overthrew. Although the first surviving manuscripts are from Mandu in the years either side of 1500, there were very likely earlier ones which are either lost, or perhaps now attributed to southern Persia, as later manuscripts can be hard to distinguish from these by style alone, and some remain the subject of debate among specialists.[1] By the time of the Mughal invasion, the tradition had abandoned the high viewpoint typical of the Persian style, and adopted a more realistic style for animals and plants.[2]

No miniatures survive from the reign of the founder of the dynasty, Babur, nor does he mention commissioning any in his diaries, the Baburnama. Copies of this were illustrated by his descendents, Akbar in particular, with many portraits of the many new animals Babur encountered when he invaded India, which are carefully described.[3] However some surviving un-illustrated manuscripts may have been commissioned by him, and he comments on the style of some famous past Persian masters. Some older illustrated manuscripts have his seal on them; the Mughals came from a long line stretching back to Timur and were fully assimilated into Persianate culture, and expected to patronize literature and the arts.[4]

Mughal painting immediately took a much greater interest in realistic portraiture than was typical of Persian miniatures. Animals and plants were also more realistically shown. Although many classic works of Persian literature continued to be illustrated, as well as Indian works, the taste of the Mughal emperors for writing memoirs or diaries, begun by Babur, provided some of the most lavishly decorated texts, such as the Padshahnama genre of official histories. Subjects are rich in variety and include portraits, events and scenes from court life, wild life and hunting scenes, and illustrations of battles.



When the second Mughal emperor, Humayun (reigned 1530–1540 and 1555-1556) was in exile in Tabriz in the Safavid court of Shah Tahmasp I of Persia, he was exposed to Persian miniature painting, and commissioned at least one work there, an unusually large painting of Princes of the House of Timur, now in the British Museum. When Humayun returned to India, he brought with him two accomplished Persian artists, Sayyid Ali and Abdus Samad. His usurping brother Kamran Mirza had maintained a workshop in Kabul, which Humayan perhaps took over into his own. Humayan's major known commission was a Khamsa of Nizami with 36 illuminated pages, in which the different styles of the various artists are mostly still apparent.[5] Apart from the London painting, he also commissioned at least two miniatures showing himself with family members,[6] a type of subject that was rare in Persia but was to be common among the Mughals.[7]


Mughal painting developed and flourished during the reigns of Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan.

During the reign of Humayun's son Akbar (r. 1556-1605), the imperial court, apart from being the centre of administrative authority to manage and rule the vast Mughal empire, also emerged as a centre of cultural excellence. Akbar inherited and expanded his father's library and atelier of court painters, and paid close personal attention to its output. He had studied painting in his youth under Abd as-Samad, though it is not clear how far these studies went.[8]

Between 1560 and 1566 the Tutinama ("Tales of a Parrot"), now in the Cleveland Museum of Art was illustrated, showing "the stylistic components of the imperial Mughal style at a formative stage".[9] Among other manuscripts, between 1562 and 1577 the atelier worked on an illustrated manuscript of the Hamzanama consisting of 1,400 canvas folios. Sa'di's masterpiece The Gulistan was produced at Fatehpur Sikri in 1582, a Darab Nama around 1585; the Khamsa of Nizami (British Library, Or. 12208) followed in the 1590s and Jami's Baharistan around 1595 in Lahore. As Mughal-derived painting spread to Hindu courts the texts illustrated included the Hindu epics including the Ramayana and the Mahabharata; themes with animal fables; individual portraits; and paintings on scores of different themes. Mughal style during this period continued to refine itself with elements of realism and naturalism coming to the fore.

Jahangir (1605-27) had an artistic inclination and during his reign Mughal painting developed further. Brushwork became finer and the colors lighter. Jahangir was also deeply influenced by European painting. During his reign he came into direct contact with the English Crown and was sent gifts of oil paintings, which included portraits of the King and Queen. He encouraged his royal atelier to take up the single point perspective favoured by European artists, unlike the flattened multi-layered style used in traditional miniatures. He particularly encouraged paintings depicting events of his own life, individual portraits, and studies of birds, flowers and animals. The Jahangirnama , written during his lifetime, which is a biographical account of Jahangir, has several paintings, including some unusual subjects such as the sexual union of a saint with a tigress, and fights between spiders.

During the reign of Shah Jahan (1628-58), Mughal paintings continued to develop, but they gradually became cold and rigid. Themes including musical parties; lovers, sometimes in intimate positions, on terraces and gardens; and ascetics gathered around a fire, abound in the Mughal paintings of this period.


The Persian master artists Abdus Samad and Mir Sayid Ali, who had accompanied Humayun to India, were in charge of the imperial atelier during the early formative stages of Mughal painting, but large numbers of artists worked on large commissions, the majority of them apparently Hindu, to judge by the names recorded. Mughal painting flourished during the late 16th and early 17th centuries with spectacular works of art by master artists such as Basawan, Lal, Miskin, Kesu Das, and Daswanth.

Govardhan was a noted painter during the reigns of Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan.

The sub-imperial school of Mughal painting included artists such as Mushfiq, Kamal, and Fazl.

During the first half of the 18th century, many Mughal-trained artists left the imperial workshop to work at Rajput courts. These include artists such as Bhawanidas and his son Dalchand.


A durbar scene with the newly crowned Emperor Aurangzeb in his golden throne. Though he did not encourage Mughal painting, some of the best work was done during in his reign.

Aurangzeb (1658-1707) did not actively encourage Mughal paintings, but as this art form had gathered momentum and had a number of patrons, Mughal paintings continued to survive, but the decline had set in. Some sources however note that a few of the best Mughal paintings were made for Aurangzeb, speculating that the painters may have realized that he was about to close the workshops and thus exceeded themselves in his behalf.[10] A brief revival was noticed during the reign of Muhammad Shah 'Rangeela' (1719-48), but by the time of Shah Alam II (1759-1806), the art of Mughal painting had lost its glory. By that time, other schools of Indian painting had developed, including, in the royal courts of the Rajput kingdoms of Rajputana, Rajput painting and in the cities ruled by the British East India Company, the Company style under Western influence.

Mughal style today

Mughal-style miniature paintings are still being created today by a small number of artists in Rajasthan concentrated mainly in Jaipur. Although many of these miniatures are skillful copies of the originals, some artists have produced modern works using classic methods with, at times, remarkable artistic effect.

The skills needed to produce these modern versions of Mughal miniatures are still passed on from generation to generation, although many artisans also employ dozens of workers, often painting under trying working conditions, to produce works sold under the signature of their modern masters. Rafi Uddin is the recipient of a large number of artistic honours from India over the last decades. His younger brother Saif Uddin, who ghost-painted for his famous brother for years, has since become the most recognized modern Mughal painter straying from traditional Indian scenes into more contemporary themes.

Other masters in Rajasthan include Kaluram Panchal, Ram Gopal Vijayvargiya, Ved Pal Sharma, Kailash Raj, Tilak Gitai, Gopal Kamawat, Mohammed Usman and Mohammed Luqman, Kishan Mali Sharma and the Joshi family.


See also


  1. ^ Titley, 161-166
  2. ^ Titley, 161
  3. ^ Titley, 187
  4. ^ Grove
  5. ^ Grove
  6. ^ Grove
  7. ^ Beach, 58
  8. ^ Beach, 49
  9. ^ Grove
  10. ^ Commentary by Stuart Cary Welch


  • Beach, Milo Cleveland, Early Mughal painting, Harvard University Press, 1987, ISBN 0674221850, 9780674221857
  • "Grove", Oxford Art Online, "Indian sub., §VI, 4(i): Mughal ptg styles, 16th–19th centuries", restricted access.
  • Titley, Norah M., Persian Miniature Painting, and its Influence on the Art of Turkey and India, 1983, University of Texas Press, 0292764847

Further reading

External links

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