Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

9.8: Mughal Period (1526 – 1857)

  • Page ID
  • The Mughal Empire extended far and wide throughout much of the Indian-subcontinent, and during the golden age, art flourished. The empire covered 3.2 million square kilometers, with over 150 million people (one-quarter of the earth's population at the time). Art was a cultural practice revered by the Mughal court, most of the art secular in composition, based on an illustrated folk-art style of painting.

    Under Prince Jahangir's reign, individual artists were supported and created artworks using his favorite topics; plants, animals, and portraitures. The illustration in a picture was spread out, eliminating detail with a flatter, aerial perspective using more subdued colors. Artists made lavish collections of paintings with calligraphy, decorative borders, and gilding, assembling them into a manuscript format. Under the next leader, Shah Jahan, the most prominent and well-known architectural achievement was the Taj Mahal, a tomb he commissioned for his wife. Paintings from this era were formal portraits and scenes of the court rather than the personal subject matters of the previous leader. Mughal painting was usually a court art, supported by the ruling class.

    Babur Receives a Courtier
    9.32 Babur Receives a Courtier

    Farrukh Beg (1545 – 1615) first worked in central Asia, then joined the service of the Mughal emperor in the late 16th century. His early paintings were Persian style, and he continued throughout his career to be a conservative painter, staying with a style he always knew. He painted in bright colors, illustrating big plants and drapery as part of his art. Babur Receives a Courtier (9.32) is a scene at court, each set of participants formed in the same perspective, giving the illustration the flat appearance. Historians consider the painting one of the best from the Mughal empire.

    9.33 Dodo
    9.34 Tulip

    Ustad Mansur (unknown) was a court artist and painter who excelled in his depiction of plants and animals, known for his natural history illustrations. He was one of the first artists to illustrate the Dodo (9.33) in color, as well as the Siberian crane. The dodo bird was scarce, and Mansur's work provided a detailed source for zoologists of the time. Mansur painted at least one hundred flowers that grew in the Kashmir Valley, the Red Tulip (9.34), and an example of one of the flowers. He documented many of the birds of the area and incorporated plants and insects in the background of his illustrations. Mansur added floral borders to his work, which became a characteristic of the Mughal empire.

    Ustad Ahmad Lahauari (unknown) was the chief architect and principal designer of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, a commission started in 1632. The Taj Mahal (9.35) is an immense mausoleum commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his wife. The Taj Mahal is a complex of white marble buildings finished in 1653 and is considered the most beautiful example of Mughal architecture, incorporating many architectural styles into the design including Indian, Islamic, Ottoman, and Persian. Generally, buildings were assembled with red sandstone; however, Shah Jahan wanted the finest and had the Taj Mahal constructed using white marble, embellished with semi-precious stones. A set of false tombs is on the first floor, and the actual tombs (9.36) are housed on the lower floor.

    Taj Mahal
    9.35 Taj Mahal
    9.36 Crypts