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  • Place of origin:

    Mughal Empire (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1590-95 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Miskina (maker)
    Banwali Kalan (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The composition of this painting was designed by the Mughal court artist Miskina and the details painted by Banwali the Elder. It is from the Akbarnama (Book of Akbar) .
Elephants played a crucial part in Mughal warfare, breaking through fortifications and killing enemy footsoldiers. They were also used to deliver capital punishment, as this painting vividly demonstrates. Ali Quli Shaibani had served Humayun, and his bravery in the early military campaigns of Akbar’s reign earned him a title and a valuable grant of land. However, his very public affair with Shaham Beg, formerly one of Humayun’s bodyguards, scandalised the court. He fell further into disgrace by marrying a prostitute who had also been Shaham Beg’s lover and living with both in a ménage a trois. Abu’l Fazl, writing with the benefit of hindsight, claimed that Ali Quli’s apparent loyalty was always insincere, though he did not rebel outright until 1566. Nevertheless, Akbar pardoned him after Mirza Rezavi Mirak, a close follower, begged forgiveness on Ali Quli’s behalf. The following year Ali Quli again rebelled, forcing Akbar to lead a small force to crush him. Ali Quli died in the battle, and his leading supporters were captured and executed by elephants before the emperor. Mirza Rezavi Mirak was among the captives but the elephant’s mahout was ordered not to kill him. Instead, the huge animal simply played with him. This terrifying ordeal was repeated for five consecutive days until Mirza Rezavi Mirak was freed.
[AKbarnama, English translation: Beveridge, vol. II, pp. 398, 426-36]
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, trained elephants executing Akbar's prisoners, the followers of Khan Zaman in 1567.

Place of Origin

Mughal Empire (made)


ca. 1590-95 (made)


Miskina (maker)
Banwali Kalan (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Tarh: Miskina/Amal: Banwali Kalan'
'composition by Miskina/work [painting] by Banwali the Elder'
Contemporary librarian's attribution in Persian written beneath the image at the bottom of the page in red ink.


Height: 38.1 cm folio, Width: 22.4 cm folio

Object history note

The Akbarnama was commissioned in 1589 by the emperor Akbar as an official chronicle of his reign. It was written by his court historian and biographer Abu'l Fazl, who had completed most of his work by 1596. The illustrations were being painted by the royal artists as the historian wrote and revised his text After Akbar's death, the incomplete manuscript remained in the library of his son, Jahangir who recorded his ownership on the flyleaf. The Museum purchased it in 1896 from Mrs. Frances Clarke, the widow of Major General-Clarke, an official who had served as Commissioner of Oudh.

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. The inscriptions in red ink on the bottom of the paintings name the artists.

Calza, Gian Carlo (ed.) Akbar: the great emperor of India. Rome : Fondazione, Roma Museo, 2012. ISBN 978-88-572-1525-9 (hard cover edition); ISBN 978-88-572-1793-2 (soft cover edition). p.256 , cat. no.IV.9.

Descriptive line

Painting, Akbarnama, trained elephants execute followers of Khan Zaman, outline by Miskina, painting Banwali the Elder, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, Mughal, ca. 1590-95


Paper; Opaque watercolour; Paint


Painted; Drawing

Subjects depicted

Elephant; Execution


ELISE; Paintings; Images Online; Animals and Wildlife; Illustration; Bonita Trust Indian Paintings Cataloguing Project


South & South East Asia Collection

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