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.
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