The Mughal Imperial Artist's Identity

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Revealing the Mughal Imperial Artist’s Identity
Much of the creation and utilization of art in India can be identified with the Mughal period. Since Babur’s rule in 1526, Mughal art has progressed substantially, mostly due to emperor’s Akbar and Jahangir. Akbar is commonly referred to as the founder of Mughal painting and would commission a plethora of court painters with differing skills to paint a single piece of art. However the founder of the Mughal artist is indefinitely emperor Janhangir. It was not until the reign of Jahangir, from 1605 to 1628, that the collaborative style of painting was reduced to a single painter and the artist’s identity was revealed. Akbar, emperor of the Mughal Dynasty from 1556 to 1605, is widely recognized as the originator of Mughal painting and the art of the book. Along with his cultivation of the arts, Akbar was one of the most successful Mughal emperors, dominating the Indian subcontinent with Mughal rule. The emperor was known as a fearless soldier of great strength who was willing to risk his life for triumph. Most of Akbar’s success as an emperor was reflected in his character. Although Akbar was formally illiterate he had his courtiers read to him, using his exceptional memory to absorb a surplus of knowledge. But, it is no wonder then that Akbar invested much of his time in the arts.[1]

Not only did Akbar’s character reflect upon his reign but also upon the artwork that was produced at the time. Years before Akbar came into power, his father Humayun established a royal workshop. Later inherited by Akbar, the workshop was transformed into a sizable collaborative institution. The emperor had the master painter in charge of the layout and composition of the painting while junior artists completed the brushwork and detail. This was very characteristic of paintings done during Akbar’s reign where “the work was divided among different artists specializing in foundation drawing, background, figure work, and portraiture, only master painters being allowed to do the outline drawing.”[2] With no independent standing, the artist was no more than a craftsman amongst a large number of others at this time. Akbar was the type of individual that enjoyed ruling over large groups of people so it does not come as a surprise that he would commission numerous artists to paint a single piece. Although some of Akbar’s court artists are well known by name, they were rarely recognized for the work they helped produce. The style of each painting was more attributed to the emperor’s liking rather than that of the painter.[3] Due to the nature of Akbar’s rule, most paintings created during his reign conveyed the fast pace of the conqueror’s courtly life. The emperor favored bold colors, elevated commotion and activity and turbulent movement in his paintings. In each painting Akbar’s royalty is stressed and he persists as chief actor in the historical narrative of his paintings. It was clear that Akbar’s influence on paintings was much more than that of any individual artist.[4] One such piece that properly reveals this style is Akbar Hunting in a Qamurgha at Palam near Delhi in 1568 or Folio 71 from Akbarnama, the Tales of Akbar (Figure1). The frenzy of Akbar’s soldiers in the composition mimics the tumult of artists that helped complete the illustrations of Akbarnama, where a different artist could have painted each person in the painting. It is visually apparent that a number of unnamed artists collaborated in the completion of the painting (as seen in Figure 2). The two men standing next to each other are supposedly of the same race and empire based on the clothes they are wearing and tasks they are carrying out. However, differences in style such as the detail and brushwork in their waistbands and shoes to the shading in their legs are products of the collaborative artist commissioning famed by Akbar.

Succeeding Akbar was his sole surviving son, Jahangir, who came to power in 1605...
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