A Royal Line of Art Connoisseurs
THE term Mughal used in the history of the art of India is a puzzler. While this spelling is customary in art history, it may be spelled Mogul (or Moghal) for political history. If the word Mogul suggests to you the word Mongol, you are correct. The Mughal emperors were descendents of Genghis Khan and his successors who swept over and out of China in the 12th and 13th centuries. As the huge empire broke up, the princes in the western parts became Islamized. Babar was among these princes, but he moved east again, and founded the Mughal Empire in India in 1526 A.D. The early Mughal emperors were all connoisseurs of art. This was in spite of prohibitions in Muslim tenets forbidding the delineation of the likeness of anything ``in heaven or on earth.''Skip to next paragraph
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Babar was of the Iranian (Persian) House of Timor and his son and successor, Humayun, had spent a year at the court at Tabriz where he became acquainted with two prominent painters. When Humayun was enthroned in Kabul he sent for these two painters, desiring them to oversee the illustration of a lengthy story of Muslim chivalry and romance. Naturally, these examples of early Mughal paintings are Iranian in character - very stylized and decorative.
The work was continued under the Emperor Akbar (1556-1605) who was an extraordinarily enlightened ruler. In order to better understand his Hindu subjects, he ordered Hindu manuscripts translated and illustrated. He supported both Muslim and Hindu artists, as well as a few venturesome Europeans. He hoped to end the religious hostility which unfortunately has continued to this day in India. His religious tolerance as well as his artistic eye may have been a legacy of the Khans who, while ruthless conquerors, granted full religious freedom to their subjected lands.
The resulting art became a graceful mix of the indigenous Rajput style and the Persian. Akbar established himself in a new capital in Delhi, and his new palace included spacious studios for painters who executed wall paintings and other large works, as well as the small illustrations we associate with Mughal art. He is said to have employed over a hundred master artists with innumerable assistants and apprentices. He was so interested in the progress of his art projects that he personally reviewed the work each week granting royal rewards and honors which must have kept the artists at a competitive edge.
The tolerant Akbar welcomed Christian missionaries who, having been informed of his predilection for art, brought along numerous paintings as gifts. In this way, the modeling of the figure in the manner of the Renaissance became familiar to the artists and portraiture became important.
Jehangir (1605-1627), Akbar's son, continued the interest in painting. It is from his reign that our example, ``A Falconer and a Gamekeeper,'' comes. Typical of the puzzle of Mughal miniatures (this painting is approximately 9 by 7 inches) is the title. The calligraphic inscription in the upper right corner indicates that the falconer is none other than Jehangir himself with a courtier. However other sources believe that the writing was added at a later date and it is a portrait of another royal prince, a contender for the throne who lost out to Jehangir.