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Asaf Khan

  • Object:

    Painting

  • Place of origin:

    Mughal Empire (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1590-95 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Kesav Kalan (maker)
    Nar Singh (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper

  • Museum number:

    IS.2:36-1896

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This painting by the Mughal court artists Kesav Kalan and Nar Singh shows Asaf Khan leading the Mughal forces in 1564 against Rani Durgavati, the ruler of the Gond Kingdom of Middle India. Asaf Khan was vizier to the Mughal emperor Akbar (r.1556–1605) and a highly effective military leader. The female ruler of the Gond tribe fell to Mughal forces after a fiercely contested battle, leading Akbar to admire her extraordinary bravery. This image is the left half of a double-page illustration, the right half being Museum no. IS.2:35-1896.

It is an illustration from the Akbarnama (Book of Akbar), commissioned by Akbar as the official chronicle of his reign. The Akbarnama 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, Asaf Khan in battle with the forces of Rani Durgavati, ruler of the Gond Kingdom of Middle India, in 1564. The image is overlaid with two panels of text extending from the upper and lower right hand margin.

Place of Origin

Mughal Empire (made)

Date

ca. 1590-95 (made)

Artist/maker

Kesav Kalan (maker)
Nar Singh (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper

Marks and inscriptions

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

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 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.

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, Asaf Khan in battle, outline by Kesav the Elder, painting by Nar Singh, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, Mughal, ca. 1590-95

Production Note

Outline composed by Kesav Kalan, colours and details painted by Nar Singh.

Materials

Paper; Opaque watercolour; Paint

Techniques

Painted; Drawing

Subjects depicted

Battle; Battle; Rulers

Categories

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

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

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