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Akbar

  • Object:

    Painting

  • Place of origin:

    Mughal Empire (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1586 - ca. 1589 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Kesav Kalan (maker)
    Dharmdas (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper

  • Museum number:

    IS.2:16-1896

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This painting by the Mughal court artists Kesav Kalan and Dharmdas is an illustration from the Akbarnama (Book of Akbar). It shows dancers, captured after the defeat of Baz Bahadur, the Muslim ruler of Malwa in north central India, performing at court for the Mughal emperor Akbar (r.1556–1605).

The Akbarnama was commissioned by Akbar as the official chronicle of his reign. It was written in Persian by his court historian and biographer, Abu’l Fazl, between 1590 and 1596, and the V&A’s partial copy of the manuscript is thought to have been illustrated between about 1592 and 1595. This is thought to be the earliest illustrated version of the text, and drew upon the expertise of some of the best royal artists of the time. Many of these are listed by Abu’l Fazl in the third volume of the text, the A’in-i Akbari, and some of these names appear in the V&A illustrations, written in red ink beneath the pictures, showing that this was a royal copy made for Akbar himself. After his death, the manuscript remained in the library of his son Jahangir, from whom it was inherited by Shah Jahan.

The V&A purchased the manuscript in 1896 from Frances Clarke, the widow of Major General John Clarke, who bought it in India while serving as Commissioner of Oudh between 1858 and 1862.

Physical description

Painting, in opaque watercolour and gold on paper, the famous dancers of Baz Bahadur perform a kathak dance for Akbar following the defeat of the Malwa ruler in 1561. The dancers are shown wearing an unusual combination of layered skirts and trousers not seen elsewhere in the Akbarnama. The image is overlaid by two panels of Persian text.

Place of Origin

Mughal Empire (made)

Date

ca. 1586 - ca. 1589 (made)

Artist/maker

Kesav Kalan (maker)
Dharmdas (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Tarh Kesav Kalan/Amal Dharmdas'
'Composition by Kesav the Elder/Work[= painting] by Dharmdas'
Contemporary librarian's attributions in Persian, in red ink in the margin below the painting.

Dimensions

Height: 32.9 cm, Width: 25 cm

Object history note

The Akbarnama was commissioned by the emperor Akbar as the official chronicle of his reign. It was written by Abu'l Fazl between 1590 and 1596 and is thought to have been illustrated between about 1592 and 1594 by at least 49 different artists from Akbar's studio. After Akbar's death in 1605, the manuscript remained in the library of his son, Jahangir (r. 1605-1627) and later that of Shah Jahan (r.1628-1658). The Museum purchased it in 1896 from Mrs Frances Clarke, the widow of Major-General John Clarke, who bought it in India while serving as Commissioner of Oudh between 1858 and 1862.

Historical significance: It is thought to be the first illustrated copy of the Akbarnama. It drew upon the expertise of some of the best royal painters of the time, many of whom receive special mention by Abu'l Fazl in the A'in-i-Akbari,("Institutes of Akbar"), the third volume of the Akbarnama. The Persian inscriptions in red ink on the bottom of the paintings name the artists.

Descriptive line

Painting, Akbarnama, dancers from Malwa perform before Akbar, outline by Kesu the Elder, painting by Dharm Das, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, Mughal, ca. 1586-1589

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Susan Stronge, Painting for the Mughal Emperor. The Art of the Book 1560-1650, V&A Publications, London, 2002, pl. 45, p.67
The Indian Heritage; Court Life and Arts under Mughal Rule: V&A publication, 1982, ISBN 0906969263, p.33, no.26.(Andrew Topsfield)
Fig 5 Page 27
Susan Stronge, Nima Smith, and J.C. Harle. A Golden Treasury : Jewellery from the Indian Subcontinent London : Victoria and Albert Museum in association with Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, 1988. ISBN: 0944142168
Fig.5 page 28
Susan Stronge, Nima Smith, and J.C. Harle. A Golden Treasury : Jewellery from the Indian Subcontinent London : Victoria and Albert Museum in association with Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, 1988. ISBN: 0944142168

Production Note

Composition by Kesav the Elder, painted by Dharmdas.

Materials

Paper; Opaque watercolour; Paint; Gold

Techniques

Painted; Drawing

Subjects depicted

Dancers

Categories

ELISE; Paintings; Dance; Manuscripts; Images Online; Illustration; Bonita Trust Indian Paintings Cataloguing Project

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

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