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Akbar

  • Object:

    Painting

  • Place of origin:

    Mughal Empire (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1590-95 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Basawan (maker)
    Nand, Gwaliari (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper

  • Museum number:

    IS.2:77-1896

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This painting from the Akbarnama (Book of Akbar) depicts an incident from the life of the Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605). Akbar had vowed that if he should be blessed with a son, he would walk to the shrine of the founder of the Chishti order, Shaikh Mu'in ad-Din Chishti, at Ajmer to offer his prayers. He left Agra in January 1570, and swiftly covered the 370 or so kilometers. He is depicted here accompanied by servants carrying emblems of royalty. Abu’l Fazl, in the A’in-i Akbari, the third volume of his history of the reign entitled the Akbarnama, notes that whenever the emperor went out in a formal context, five standards would be carried next to him, as well as the qur, a collection of flags and other insignia. These were all wrapped in red cloth, the colour of royalty. The aftabgir, a shade held over the emperor’s head and seen here, was also on Abu’l Fazl’s list of royal emblems. While in Ajmer, Akbar distributed alms at the shrine, visited other local sacred places, and ordered the construction of new mosques. When a second son, Murad, was born at Sikri some months later to another wife, Akbar returned to Ajmer and had the fort enlarged, new mansions built and gardens laid out for the elite of the court. From then until 1579 he made annual pilgrimages to the city. The composition (tarh) of the painting was designed by Basawan, and the "work" ('amal), or painting, was done by Nand Gwaliari. [Akbarnama, English translation: Beveridge, vol. II, pp. 510-11]

The Akbarnama was commissioned in 1589 by the emperor Akbar as the official chronicle of his reign. It was written by his court historian and biographer Abu'l Fazl between 1590 and 1596 and is thought to have been illustrated between about 1592 and 1594. At least 49 different artists from Akbar's Ketabkhana, or "House of Books", where manuscripts were stored as well as created, worked on the illustrations. After Akbar's death in 1605, the incomplete manuscript remained in the library of his son, Jahangir (r. 1605-1627) who recorded his ownership on the flyleaf, and later Shah Jahan (r.1628-1658). The Victoria and Albert 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.

Physical description

Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper, Akbar is at the centre of the composition, dressed in white, walking across a landscape during his pilgrimage on foot to Ajmer in thanksgiving for the birth of Prince Salim (later Emperor Jahangir). Servants follow him, bearing emblems of royalty including a sunshade. Panels of Persian text are pasted onto the painting in panels at top and bottom.

Place of Origin

Mughal Empire (made)

Date

ca. 1590-95 (made)

Artist/maker

Basawan (maker)
Nand, Gwaliari (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Tarh Basawan/amal Nand Gwaliori'
'Composition by Basawan/Work [ie painting] by Nand Gwaliori'
The contemporary attributions are written in Persian in red ink beneath the painting.

Dimensions

Width: 19.1 cm painting, Height: 33.4 cm painting

Object history note

The Akbarnama was commissioned by the emperor Akbar as the official chronicle of his reign in 1589 and was written by Abu'l Fazl between 1590 and 1596. The paintings were done while the author wrote and revised his text and were completed by 1595. After Akbar's death in 1605, the manuscript remained in the library of his son, Jahangir (r. 1605-1627) and later Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1658). The Victoria and Albert Museum purchased it in 1896 from Mrs Frances Clarke, the widow of Major-General John Clarke, who bought it while serving as Commissioner of Oudh province 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, the third book of the Akbarnama. The inscriptions in red ink on the bottom of the paintings refer to the artists and indicate that this was a royal copy.

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.234 , cat. no.1.2.

Descriptive line

Painting, Akbarnama, Akbar's pilgrimage to Ajmer in thanksgiving for the birth of Prince Salim, outline by Basawan, painting by Nand Gwaliari, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, Mughal, ca. 1590-95

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

Painting for the Mughal Emperor: The Art of the Book 1560-1660, Susan Stronge, pl. 50, p 78.
STRONGE, Susan. Painting for the Mughal Emperor: The Art of the Book 1560 – 1660 London : V&A Publications, 2002. 192p, ill. ISBN 1 85177 358 4.
p. 25, fig. 1.
The Indian Portrait: 1560-1860 London: National Portrait Gallery, 2010 Number: 978 1 85514 409 5

Production Note

Outline painted by Basawan, colours and details by Nand Gwaliari.
Attribution place is likely to be Lahore.

Materials

Paper; Opaque watercolour; Paint

Techniques

Painted; Drawing

Subjects depicted

Ruler; Pilgrimage; Pilgrimage; Servants

Categories

Paintings; Manuscripts; Images Online; Religion; Illustration; Bonita Trust Indian Paintings Cataloguing Project

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

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