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Shah Abu'l Ma'ali

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Mughal Empire (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1590-95 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Jagan (maker)
    Asir (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This painting designed by the Mughal court artist Jagan, and painted by Asir, is an illustration to the Akbarnama (Book of Akbar), commissioned in 1589 by the emperor Akbar (r.1556–1605) as the official chronicle of his reign. It depicts the execution of Shah Abul Ma’ali at Kabul, in present-day Afghanistan, in 1564.
Shah Abu’l Ma’ali had been in service to Akbar's father, Humayun, but from the beginning of Akbar’s reign in 1556 displayed rebellious tendencies. He was despatched on pilgrimage to Mecca to prevent him stirring up sedition, but returned unchanged and after making an unsuccessful attack on Mughal forces escaped to Kabul. The seriousness of the threat he posed is demonstrated by the attempt on Akbar’s life that took place shortly afterwards. When the emperor visited the shrine of Nizam ad-Din Awliya in Delhi, a man in the crowd shot him with an arrow, wounding him quite seriously. The would-be assassin was put to death, but was discovered to have links with one of Abu’l Ma’ali’s allies. Meanwhile, in Kabul, Abu’l Ma’ali’s illustrious family antecedents had persuaded the politically powerful lady Mah Chuchak Begum to give him her daughter in marriage. The union ended in catastrophe: Abu’l Ma’ali murdered his mother-in-law and had other family members and servants killed, for which he was hanged. The Akbarnama, written over 25 years later, describes Abu’l Ma’ali throughout in vituperative terms, and the author concludes that with his death ‘the world was cleansed of his hateful existence’. [English translation, Beveridge, vol. II, pp. 317-22]
The Akbarnama was written in Persian by Akbar’s 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, this painting illustrates the execution of Shah Abul Ma'ali at Kabul in 1564. Shah Abul Ma'ali is shown being hanged from a gallows. There are two text panels, each containing three lines of Persian, overlaid at top and bottom of the painting, with the librarian's notations at the bottom in red.

Place of Origin

Mughal Empire (made)


ca. 1590-95 (made)


Jagan (maker)
Asir (made)

Materials and Techniques

Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper

Marks and inscriptions

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


Height: 31.5 cm, Width: 19.3 cm

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 c. 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 the widow of Major General Clarke, an official who had been the Commissioner in Oudh province between 1858 and 1862.

Historical significance: This 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 royal 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.10.

Descriptive line

Painting, Akbarnama, execution of Shah Abu'l Ma'ali, outline by Jagan, painting by Asir, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, Mughal, ca. 1590-95

Production Note

Composition by Jagan; painted by Isar.


Paper; Opaque watercolour; Paint


Painted; Drawing

Subjects depicted

Execution; Gallows


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


South & South East Asia Collection

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