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Akbar

  • Object:

    Painting

  • Place of origin:

    Mughal Empire (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1590-95 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Basawan (maker)
    Tara the Elder (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper

  • Museum number:

    IS.2:17-1896

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This illustration by the Mughal court artists Basawan and Tara the Elder to the Akbarnama (Book of Akbar) depicts the Mughal emperor Akbar (r.1556–1605) slaying a tiger near Narwar, central India, in 1561. The royal entourage disturbed a female tiger, who sprang out from the forest and lashed out to protect her five cubs. The emperor’s companions were said to have frozen in terror, but the emperor reacted instantly, killing the tigress with one blow of his sword. His men then killed the five offspring. The event is depicted over two pages, the other page being Museum no. IS 2:18-1896. The image is overlaid by a Persian text panel.

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, 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 is the right side of a double composition, and depicts Akbar slaying a tiger near Narwar, Gwalior in 1561. The action takes place in the clearing of a hilly wooded landscape with several other men joining the hunt. The image is overlaid by a panel of Persian text (four lines) on the left-hand side of the page.

Place of Origin

Mughal Empire (made)

Date

ca. 1590-95 (made)

Artist/maker

Basawan (maker)
Tara the Elder (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Painted in opaque watercolour and gold on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Tarh Basawan/Amal Tara Kalan/nami chehreh kar-e: Baswan'
'Composition by Basawan/Work [i.e. painted] by Tara Kalan/Portraits by Basawan'
Contemporary librarian's attributions in Persian, in red ink in the margin below the painting.

Dimensions

Height: 33 cm, Width: 20 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 that of 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 ("Institutes of Akbar"), the third book 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.

Descriptive line

Painting, Akbarnama, Akbar tiger-hunting near Narwar, outline and portraits by Basawan, painting Tara the Elder, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, Mughal, ca. 1590-95

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

Stronge, Susan. Painting for the Mughal Emperor: The Art of the Book 1560-1660. V&A Publications 2002, pl.41 (right), p.62.
Sen, Geeti. Paintings from the Akbar Nama. Lustre Press Pvt Limited, 1984, page 68.
p. 153, cat. no. 204
In the image of man : the Indian perception of the universe through 2000 years of painting and sculpture : [exhibition / organized by Catherine Lampert assisted by Rosalie Cass]. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson :in association with the Arts Council of Great Britain, 1982 Number: 0297780719, 0297781243 (pbk.)

Production Note

Outline picture and portraits painted by Basawan, colours and details painted by Tara the Elder. Attribution place is likely to be Delhi, Agra or Fatehpur Sikri.

Materials

Paper; Opaque watercolour; Paint; Gold

Techniques

Painted; Drawing

Subjects depicted

Hunting; Ruler; Hunting; Tiger

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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