Problems of Power, Imperial Identity, and the Central Asian Legacy
The majority of contemporary studies of Mughal painting present its changes in style and artistic tradition. The studied paintings have been seen examples of historical narrative and visualized text. However, the fact that many illustrations are generically appropriate for describing the adjacent text tells Mughal painting cannot be fully comprehended in this way. Unlike most book-length studies and articles that examine the identification and comparison of styles, in the article “The Hierarchical Principles of Shah-Jahani Painting”, Ebba Koch argues that the Shah-Jahani manuscripts were created not merely for an aesthetic purpose, but explored to political ends, to create programmatic statements of order and hierarchy, a driving force which was not supposed to change throughout the paintings created under his reign. The examination of Shah Jahani painting within the power structure of the emperor’s rule provides an integrative approach that uncovers the political and ideological concepts in Mughal painting. For example, the darbar scenes (court scenes) under the reign of Akbar are depicted as small private meetings and figures are given a sense of movement in the architectural settings. In contrast, the same theme of painting from Shah Jahan’s time is shown as an ever-repeated and standardized image. According to Ebba Koch, this change in the court style is purposeful since the artistic aspects of Shah Jahani painting were highly regulated towards the emperor’s imperial ideology.
Taking Ebba Koch’s notion of power structure as a starting point, this article is going to examine another recurring theme in Mughal painting, the royal hunt, by looking at the dynamics of power structure through their imperial identity. This study seeks to incorporate the Central Asian legacy of Mughals and the concept of sacred kingship into the exploration of qualities of leadership to reveal the different self-realizations of Mughal emperors. Continue reading “Mughal Series|An Examination of Mughal Hunting Scenes (Part A Intro and Akbar)”→
The study of Mughal painting first became an interest for scholars during the colonial period in the eighteenth century. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the interest was further enhanced by the rich collections of Mughal painting in Europe and America. The naturalism in the Mughal style gained admirations from the collectors in the West, as Pramod Chandra explained: “its relative naturalism proving fairly acceptable to early collectors and students whose preferences reflected, for the most part, the pervasiveness of Western taste at the time.” Besides the pictorial quality, the foreign origin of Mughal art also made it acceptable for the colonizers to prove their cultural superiority over the Indians. Later in the twentieth century, shaped by the Western art historical approaches, interpretative frameworks for studying Mughal painting were established. Basic methodologies had been applied and became concentrations of the art historical practice in 1920s and 1930s such as connoisseurship and formal analysis. Since then, art historians had changed their interest from the European influence to the “interaction of Mughal and European art”. Not only was the impact of the European style on Mughal paintings the focus, the exchange between cultures was also investigated. After the independence (1947), a nationalist art historical perspective had been widely adopted by scholars in India due to the Nehruvian modern nationalism. In the 60s and 70s, scholars began to adapt the frameworks to the Mughal context. They still primarily concentrated on the style and the connoisseurship, but placed the paintings in the Mughal context in which art works were produced and appreciated. In recent decades, the contextual approach has been used by Mughal art historians. The viewpoint of studying Mughal art on its own terms is prevalent. Building context for Mughal painting is the focus of the Mughal academic society.
This article attempts at demonstrating the importance of the context of Mughal illustrated manuscripts. My examination starts with the collection from the South Kensington Museum (now V&A) by focusing on the “proper framing” provided by the art institution. Then I will discuss the history of the pages that had been detached from the binding, the practices of exhibiting and display in the museum space decontextualized the Mughal manuscripts, the digital archive further decontextualized the books.
In 1881, Caspar Purdon Clarke, the first Keeper of the South Kensington Museum’s Indian Department was sent to India to buy contemporary “industrial arts”. He bought some ‘large paintings’ in one of the wooden huts in Kashmir, and brought them to London, which were later identified as Hamzanama, the adventure stories of Amir Hamza, the paternal uncle of the Prophet produced in early Mughal. Continue reading “Mughal Series|Decontextualized Display of Mughal Manuscripts”→