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Painting

ca. 1595 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The portrait of an unknown man by Isaac Oliver of ca. 1595 is contained within a later painted frame done by an Indian artist, probably in the third quarter of the 18th century. Such portraits were known to have arrived at the Mughal court in the early 17th century, as recorded by the first English ambassador to India, Sir Thomas Roe. He showed the emperor Jahangir a miniature portrait of a woman by the artist, which was then famously copied by Jahangir's leading artist in five almost indistinguishable versions over several weeks in 1616. It is not known when this particular portrait arrived in India, or who it depicts. It is plausible that it may have belonged to one of the Mughal emperors, though there is no proof. With the decline of Mughal power from the late 17th century, the imperial collections began to be dispersed, and by the 18th century many former royal treasures entered other collections in the subcontinent.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Painted in watercolour and gold on paper
Brief Description
Painting, portrait of a man, by Isaac Oliver c. 1595, paint on paper, English, mounted on a Mughal album page, third quarter 18th century
Physical Description
Painting, watercolour and gold on paper, an oval miniature portrait of a man by Isaac Oliver mounted on a Mughal album page of the third quarter of the 18th century. The subject wears a black coat with a plain white collar. The background is blue with trees at either side that may be a later addition. The paint surface is slightly damaged, and the man's coat may have been retouched.

It has a painted frame done by an Indian artist in white, red and gold that simulates jewelled gold, within a blue-grey rectangular compartment decorated with a radiating leaf pattern outlined in white. The outer borders are respectively gold-flecked green; salmon pink with a band of quatrefoils enclosed within split acanthus leaves in gold; and gold flecked paper. Each border has gold rulings. The album page has been laid down on a card support.
Dimensions
  • Estimate height: 24.2cm
  • Estimate width: 26.3cm
Dimensions taken from Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, C.M. Kauffmann, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1973
Content description
Portrait of a man.
Object history
Bought from Christie's London for £1870 on 27.6.78. Other pages from the album may have been sold at this time. The work of Isaac Oliver is known to have reached the Mughal court as early as 1616, as recorded by the first English ambassador to India, Sir Thomas Roe. He showed the emperor Jahangir a miniature portrait of a woman by the artist, which was then famously copied by Jahangir's leading artist in five almost indistinguishable versions over several weeks in 1616. Roe had agreed to a wager, which he lost, that he could be able to distinguish the original from the copies. Such imported miniatures had an important influence on the development of Jahangiri portraiture. The figure of Jahangir by Bichitr in the Freer Gallery is thought to be possibly derived from a miniature by Isaac Oliver.
Production
The painting by Isaac Oliver has been mounted on a later Mughal album page.
Subject depicted
Summary
The portrait of an unknown man by Isaac Oliver of ca. 1595 is contained within a later painted frame done by an Indian artist, probably in the third quarter of the 18th century. Such portraits were known to have arrived at the Mughal court in the early 17th century, as recorded by the first English ambassador to India, Sir Thomas Roe. He showed the emperor Jahangir a miniature portrait of a woman by the artist, which was then famously copied by Jahangir's leading artist in five almost indistinguishable versions over several weeks in 1616. It is not known when this particular portrait arrived in India, or who it depicts. It is plausible that it may have belonged to one of the Mughal emperors, though there is no proof. With the decline of Mughal power from the late 17th century, the imperial collections began to be dispersed, and by the 18th century many former royal treasures entered other collections in the subcontinent.
Bibliographic Reference
Susan Stronge, Painting for the Mughal Emperor. The art of the book 1560-1650, V&A Publications, 2002, pl.104, p. 138.
Collection
Accession Number
IS.60-1978

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record createdJuly 26, 2005
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