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Akbar

  • Object:

    Painting

  • Place of origin:

    Mughal Empire (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1590-95 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    La'l (maker)
    Sanwala (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper

  • Museum number:

    IS.2:39-1896

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This illustration to the Akbarnama (Book of Akbar) depicts the Mughal emperor Akbar (r.1556–1605) on horseback, inspecting a wild elephant captured from a herd during a royal hunting expedition near Malwa in north central India. The elephant is shown tethered to a tree to start its training process, and two trained elephants can be seen in the foreground being led away. The manuscript describes in detail the process of training a wild elephant.

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 (r.1605–1627), from whom it was inherited by Shah Jahan (r.1628–1658).

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, depicting Akbar inspecting a wild elephant captured from a herd near Malwa in 1564. The elephant is shown tethered to a tree. Two trained elephants in the foreground are being led away.

Place of Origin

Mughal Empire (made)

Date

ca. 1590-95 (made)

Artist/maker

La'l (maker)
Sanwala (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Tarh La'l/Amal Sanwala'
'composition by La'l/work of [=painted by] Sanwala'
Contemporary attributions are in red ink in Persian beneath the picture

Dimensions

Height: 32.4 cm, Width: 20.2 cm average

Object history note

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

Descriptive line

Painting, Akbarnama, Akbar inspecting wild elephant, outline by La'l, painting by Sanwalah, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, Mughal, ca. 1590-95

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

Sen, Geeti. Paintings from the Akbar Nama. Lustre Press, 1984, page 84.

Production Note

Outline composed by La'l, colours and details painted by Sanwala.

Materials

Paper; Opaque watercolour; Paint

Techniques

Painted; Drawing

Subjects depicted

Ruler; Elephant; Tree

Categories

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

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

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