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The History of Indian Mughal Miniature Painting

Updated: Mar 30

Part - 4

In Part 4 of the History of Indian Mughal Miniature Painting, I will share a funny historical incident that you will relish.

The first emperor, Babur, was an avid naturalist with a keen interest in flowers, fruits, leaves, creepers, birds, animals, and insects. His diary is replete with detailed observations of these subjects. Emperor Jahangir inherited this passion from his predecessor and, during his reign, commissioned numerous paintings depicting the animal kingdom and trees. Historians have documented some paintings that depict royal hunting events where animals are portrayed with great accuracy and wildness. Emperor Jahangir had a particular fascination for rare flowers or animals from distant lands captured through arduous effort, many of which remain on display today as patronage pieces in several locations. The artists created a voluminous album featuring depictions of various animals and birds at the royal court who spared no effort to please their emperor.

 Turkey Cock by Mansur
Turkey Cock by Mansur.

The best Mughal miniature painting in the animal category was a bird. It's worth appreciating the artist who made this beautiful portrait of a bird with great color, composition, and undoubtable accuracy. As far as I know, it was by the artist named Mansur. The Emperor Jahangir officially stamped the painting. Jahangir wrote about this artwork in his diary. "Here, I am trying to translate it from Tuzuk e-Jahangiri. It was the time when Jahangir had been running for seven years of his throne. At that time, he sent Maqbara Khan to Goa as his envoy.  Maqbara Khan bought a few rare animals for the Emperor while he was returning."

With immense happiness, Jahangir wrote, "A few of those animals I have never seen yet. I got curious. Emperor Babur described some rare animals in his autobiography but didn't order to portray those animals. But I have done. Animals represented here are so rare and beautiful that I wrote a good description of them and ordered them to be portrayed for the novel Jahangirnama. I guess readers will be astonished more to see the images than to read the description of those animals. One of those looked like a peahen; however, it was bigger than a peahen but shorter than a peacock. The beak and legs of the bird are similar to common roosters; however, the colors of the head, neck, and throat are astonishingly changed periodically! A fleshy piece on that bird's head looks like a cockscomb. But the funny fact is, when it becomes excited, the fleshy piece grows bigger and hangs like an elephant's trunk. Later, it becomes normal. The color around the eyes is always blue, and it stays unchanged. But the color of its feathers changes periodically".

The preposterous reality is that the fowl in question was of Turkish origin and referred to as Hind-Tougi in the local vernacular. Jahangir's initial encounter with this creature left him feeling quite elated.

Mansur purportedly captured another masterpiece, currently housed in the Calcutta Museum—a stunning portrait of the Bengal florican, an avian species known to frequent my local vicinity. The painting bears Jahangir's calligraphy inscribed in Persian, reading: "Behold zurz-e-bur, skillfully crafted by Mansur, one of my reign's most esteemed artisans. Attested by Jahangir Akbar Shah in 1624." Regrettably, I have been unable to locate any digital reproductions of this particular artwork online.

Crane painting mughal miniature
Crane painting.

The third artwork presented is a portrait of a crane, which holds an esteemed position within the genre of bird painting in Japan. Its feathers are meticulously depicted through delicate and precise brushwork, demonstrating the artist's profound knowledge of avian anatomy. The piece embodies both artistic intuition and scientific rigor, with evident restraint and patience applied throughout its creation. Notably, despite its intricate detailing, the portrait seamlessly integrates into the overall composition of the painting. To view this exquisite work in greater detail, please click on the image on this page's right side. 

One of the most notable aspects of Mughal painting is the exquisite ornamental design adorning its edges. This intricate decoration, which conveys a refined sense of taste, artistry, and erudition, often surpasses the beauty of the painting itself. The practice of embellishing both the frame and surrounding area with elaborate designs reached its pinnacle during Jahangir's reign. A similar aesthetic sensibility can also be observed in Islamic architecture; for instance, consider the Taj Mahal, whose porch arch features Urdu calligraphy. However, while both arts share this decorative inclination, it is in painting that such an approach truly shines. Floral and creeper motifs rendered with delicate color accents imbue these frames' softness. At the same time, their cleverly chosen hues harmonize perfectly with those featured in the main work - testaments to artistic finesse at its finest!

Additionally, I believe it has been conclusively demonstrated that all designs are simply conventionalized and lack the innovative spark required to create something truly exceptional. What is your perspective on this matter? Please share your thoughts below, as I value your input. 


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