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Not currently on display at the V&A

Akbar

Painting
ca. 1590-95 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

This painting from the Akbarnama (Book of Akbar) is the left side of a double-page composition by Basawan, one of the greatest artists at the Mughal court. The right side is Museum no. IS.2:61-1896. Together they depict a battle between sannyasis (Hindu holy men) at Thanesar in north-west India. This side of the composition, the details of which were painted by Asi (the brother of another artist, Miskina, as the contemporary inscription beneath the painting specifies) shows a tank in which other sannyasis are bathing, seemingly oblivious to the battle going on around them.

The Akbarnama was commissioned by the Mughal emperor Akbar (r.1556–1605) 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.

Object details

Categories
Object type
TitleAkbar (generic title)
Materials and techniques
Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper
Brief description
Painting, Akbarnama, Akbar watches a battle between two rival groups of sanyasis at Thanesar, outline by Basawan, painting by Asi, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, Mughal, ca. 1590-95
Physical description
Painting, in opaque watercolour and gold on paper, left side of double picture, right side being IS.2:61-1896. Depicts Akbar watching two groups of rival Hindu devotees (sannyasis) fighting at Thanesar.
Dimensions
  • Folio height: 38.1cm
  • Folio width: 22.4cm
folio size of 38.1cm x 22.4cm.
Content description
Emperor Akbar watching a battle between two bands of sanyasis (Hindu devotees) at Thanesar.
Styles
Marks and inscriptions
'Tarh Basawan/Amal Asi, baradar-e Miskina' (Contemporary librarian's attribution in Persian written beneath the image at the bottom of the page in red ink.)
Translation
'composition by Basawan/work of [painted by] Asi, Miskina's brother'
Credit line
Purchased from Mrs. Clarke, The Dingle, Sydenham Hill, S. E
Object history
The Akbarnama, or "Book of Akbar", was commissioned by the emperor Akbar as the official chronicle of his reign. It was written by 1590 and 1596 and is thought to have been illustrated between ca. 1592 and 1594 by at least forty-nine 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 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, an official who had been the Commissioner in 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 volume 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.

Purchased from Mrs. Clarke, The Dingle, Sydenham Hill, S. E. This acquisition information reflects that found in the Museum records (Asia Department registers and/or Central Inventory) as part of a 2023 provenance research project.

Registered Papers: 85488/95
Subjects depicted
Association
Literary referenceAkbarnama
Summary
This painting from the Akbarnama (Book of Akbar) is the left side of a double-page composition by Basawan, one of the greatest artists at the Mughal court. The right side is Museum no. IS.2:61-1896. Together they depict a battle between sannyasis (Hindu holy men) at Thanesar in north-west India. This side of the composition, the details of which were painted by Asi (the brother of another artist, Miskina, as the contemporary inscription beneath the painting specifies) shows a tank in which other sannyasis are bathing, seemingly oblivious to the battle going on around them.

The Akbarnama was commissioned by the Mughal emperor Akbar (r.1556–1605) 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.
Associated object
Bibliographic references
  • W. Staude, ‘Contribution a l’etude de Basawan’, Extrait de la Revue des Arts asiatiques, Paris: Les editions d’art et d’histoire, 1934, fig. 13. Sen, Geeti, Paintings from the Akbar Nama, Lustre Press, 1984,p. 106. James Mallinson, "Yoga & Yogis", in namarupa. Categories of Indian Thought, Issue 15 Volume 03 March 2012, pp. 16; 17 and 25 (details). James Mallinson, ‘Yogic Identities: Tradition and Transformation’, 2013: http://web.archive.org/web/20230111154310/https://asia.si.edu/research/articles/yogic-identities.asp
  • 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. 52, pl. 35
  • Diamond, D. Yoga: The Art of Transformation, Smithsonian Institute, 2013 pp. 173 and 299
Other number
140 - inscription/original number
Collection
Accession number
IS.2:62-1896

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Record createdNovember 12, 1998
Record URL
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