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9.3: Mughal and Rajput (1530 – Late 18th century)

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    Introduction

    The Mughal Empire (9.3.1) covered 3.2 million square kilometers, most of the Indian subcontinent. The period was known as the golden age, when art flourished and was held in high esteem by the Mughal court. During the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, artwork in India was based on three different religious principles, Islamic, Hindu, or Buddhism, illustrating India's culture and beauty. The Mughal painting style started around 1530 when the Mughal emperor returned from exile in Persia to his home in India. While in Persia, he learned about miniature painting favored by the Persians. He brought two Persian artists back to India to create artwork for him, the beginning of a style that flourished under the reigns of several subsequent emperors. Mughal was the main style in India until the middle 1600s, and by the end of the seventeenth century was replaced by the Rajput style. In the late seventeenth century, the royal courts of Rajputana supported a distinct style; each court developed different styles based on common standards. Four primary schools supported the Rajput type, creating a distinctive substyle.    

    map of india
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Mughal Empire (العربيَّة, CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Since the Mughal painting was influenced by Persian art, the works were miniatures painted on individual leaves that became a collection or set or made into a book, a common form in Islamic art. The Rajput paintings also took the form of miniatures; however, they were not bound into a book; instead, each painting was wrapped, tied with a ribbon, and stored for use on special occasions. Mughal painters were followers living in the courts, creating works based on the directions of the ruling class. Their work was sophisticated, and they used specific methods of painting. Rajput artists were generally ordinary people who were less educated. Their art was based on religious concepts and traditions of the community, not the courts.  

    Mughal Art

    In 1605, when Jahangir became emperor, he continued supporting the arts but brought his style and standards. He wanted each painter to create works without collaboration and focus on animals, plants, and portraits. Jajangir commissioned several books to be written and illustrated, lavishly decorated with borders, stamped images, golden accents, and treated leather. The work of the individual artists became recognizable and the standard of the time. Generally, the artists lived at the court and went sent out to illustrate the events of the court and the elite.  

    Exploring Color in Mughal Paintings

    Court painters from the Mughal Empire in India created detailed portraits of some of the most powerful and wealthy figures of the 17th century. These paintings traveled to Europe through trade, where their fine lines and majestic subjects inspired artists like Rembrandt. Learn how the Mughal painters employed a variety of natural pigments in their brilliantly colored images of emperors and elites.

     

    Mughal art did not portray the more erotic images found in previous Hindu works; instead, the small miniature art was focused on paintings of noblemen dressed in specific clothing. The influence of Islam defined the art, and the small paintings did not include women. Colors were more muted and dominated by tones from nature. Calligraphy and quotes from writers or the Quran became part of the artwork. Borders became a vital part of the images, based on ornamentation styles found in Islamic artwork. The paintings were generally miniature, and gold was a critical color to help accent areas of the picture and elaborate knives and swords. Artists in this section include:

    • Ustad Mansur (1590-1624)
    • Farrukh Beg (1545 – 1615)
    • Govardhan (1596-1640)
    • Bichitr (1585-1660)
    • Nainsukh (1710-1778)

    Ustad Mansur

    Although he only lived a short time, Ustad Mansur (1590-1624) was a prominent painter of animals, birds, and plants. He was known to document and paint birds or animals unknown to the local population, including the dodo and Siberian crane. He earned the title ustad (master), and the emperor Jahangir bestowed on this outstanding painter the title Nadir-al-‘Asr (unequaled of the age). The painting of birds (9.3.2) had the elusive dodo bird in the center of the picture, which had never been seen in realistic detail. The blue-crowned parrot in the upper left, the horned pheasant in the upper right, and the bar-headed goose in the bottom all display the different details captured by Mansur. They are all set against the pale, misty green and the cloudy sky, appearing as if all the birds were in one place.    

    Because the emperor favored Mansur, they frequently traveled together so Mansur could paint and document the wonders of the world the emperor saw. When the emperor discovered a new type of bird, he stated, "I ordered them to catch two or three of these birds, that I might ascertain whether they were waterfowl and were web-footed or had open feet like land birds. They caught two . . . One died immediately, and the other lived for a day. Its feet were not webbed like a duck's. I ordered [nadir al-asr] Ustad Mansur to draw its likeness."[1]

    The small image of the Diving Dipper (9.3.3), painted with muted colors, appears to stand in his natural environment. Mansur added realistic detail to the bird, creating a masterful background with the mountains jutting behind the bird. Around the whole image is an example of the flower-gilded frames the artist added to any image with gold paint to stand out from the dark blue. The Great Hornbill (9.3.4) was a large bird, 132 cm, with striking black and white feathers and a yellow bill. Although Mansur perched the bird on a rock, the forest was the usual habitat for hornbills. He probably did not see the bird in the natural setting; however, Mansur generally placed his birds in a neutral background. 

    Assorted birds on a green background
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Bird painting (17th century) (Public Domain)
    Two birds on rocks surrounded by flowers
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Diving Dipper (circa 1610-15, ink, opaque watercolor, gold on paper, 39.1 cm x 26 cm) (Public Domain)
    A bird on rocks surrounded by flowers
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Great Hornbill (Circa 1615-20 ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper, 38.7 cm x 26.7 cm) (Public Domain)

    Farrukh Beg

    Farrukh Beg (1545-1615) became part of the Mughal Emperor's court in the late 16th century after working in Asia. He based his paintings on the Persian style he learned earlier. Babur Receives a Courtier (9.3.5) depicts the court, each section representing different court members. Beg represents each group from the same perspective, creating a flat appearance for the painting. The top half of the painting demonstrates his adherence to a Persian style with the geometric patterns. Beg used the full range of the color palette set off with gold highlights.  

    many people surround a king on a pedastal
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Babur Receives a Courtier (watercolor and gold on paper, 1580-1585) (Public Domain)

    Govardhan

    Govardhan (1596-1640) was the son of a painter, and he worked in the emperor's court. Govardhan used muted but rich colors to depict different people performing daily activities. After Emperor Akbar died, Govardhan painted his image, Akbar with Lion and Calf (9.3.6), with the peaceful display of the lion and the calf, but is it peaceful? Images of the lion and calf are a common theme in early Hindu art and are frequently used by artists as symbols, and here, the calf lies uneasily as the lion bares his teeth. 

    Shah Jahan on the Peacock Throne (9.3.7), made in the early 1600s, was the seat for Mughal emperors, a place for the emperor to sit high above the ground while close to the heavens. The throne was encrusted with jewels, pearls, and gold, and the detailed painting by Govardhan captures the shah sitting on a throne, a hint to the luxury of the real one. Govardhan liked to use soft turquoise for the backgrounds and encircled the heads of the rulers with a yellow sphere. Both images have common detailed floral patterns on the borders. 

    A man standing on the ground with a lion and goat
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Akbar with Lion and Calf (ink, opaque, watercolor, and gold on paper, 38.9 x 25.7 cm) (Public Domain)
    A nan sitting on an ornate rug under a temple piece
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Shah Jahan on the Peacock Throne (1635) (Public Domain)

    Bichitr

    Bichitr (1585-1660), is widely recognized for his exceptional paintings. He had a strong presence in the courts of various emperors and was particularly reputed for his lively portraits of the court and its activities. As one of the most renowned Mughal artists of his time, he began by using the traditional softer and subdued colors of the period. But later, he became fascinated by European art and started incorporating sharper lines and brighter colors in his work. Bichitr's paintings were often adorned with small cherubs, such as Govardhan, which added to their charm and elegance. In one of his earliest works, Bichitr painted a self-portrait (9.3.8) in a muted style, portraying himself dressed in Hindu-designed clothing that was commonly found in the earlier Hindu courts. This exquisite image was adorned with an elaborate gilded frame featuring multiple flower designs, adding to its beauty and appeal. Bichitr's remarkable contributions to Mughal art continue to inspire and captivate art enthusiasts to this day.

    A man dressed in white surrounded by flowers
    Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): Self-Portrait (1600s, ink, watercolor, gold on paper, 38.7 x 25.7 cm)  (Public Domain)

    The Padshahnama

    Shah Jahan is known for the Taj Mahal monument, which he constructed in honor of his wife. He commissioned another major work, the history of his reign, written and illustrated with portraits of the court luminaries and scenes of their activities for ten years. Fourteen court artists worked on the forty-four illustrations considered by some historians as the best of the paintings from Mughal artwork. When the English invaded India, the manuscript and its paintings were taken as a gift to the king by Lord Teignmouth, who stated, "This is the most splendid Persian manuscript I ever saw. Many of the faces are very well painted, and some of them are portraits."[2]  

    When Shah-Jahan ascended to the throne after his father's death, Bichitr painted one of the ceremonies (9.3.9) for the Padshahnama when the shah's sons came to watch, and other nobles in attendance pledged their fidelity. The shah is centered at the top of the painting, and a lamb and two lions below him symbolize peace in his reign. The detail in the painting demonstrates Bichitr's skill. All the people are painted in profile, each dressed in specific clothing with unique patterns in the headdress, robes, and belts. Every space in the image is highly ornamented with designs of flowers, calligraphy, and gilded objects. The symmetry is evident in the balanced composition. The emperor is seated in the middle, above the golden table, and down through the highly patterned tile. Another illustration, Mughal Soldiers and Civilians (9.3.10), painted by an unknown painter, depicted the surrender of the Kandahar garrison to Shah Jahan and his soldiers. The shah wore understated battle clothing as he rode on the white horse. The image is flatter with less embellishment and gilding a detailed scene with less decoration.   

    A multiple complex scene of the Shah and his three oldest sons
    Figure \(\PageIndex{9}\): Shah-Jahan receives his three Eldest sons and Asaf Khan (1630-1657, gold, color on paper, 586 cm) (Public Domain)
    Outdoor scene of the surrender of a war
    Figure \(\PageIndex{10}\): Mughal Soldiers & Civilians (ca 1640s) (Public Domain)

    Rajput Art

    As the Mughals still controlled many of the states, their art style was still found in Rajput paintings; however, the themes changed from the Mughal court images to depictions of epic events, landscapes, love, and the particular fondness for Lord Krishna and his activities. During this period, multiple schools and sub-schools were formed, each with different styles that reflected the events of their locations. The distinctive schools were associated with local rulers who influenced the artists; the many schools and sub-schools reflected the continual change of rulers. In each school, new techniques were developed with various themes. With the absence of war, gardens, landscapes, poetry, music, and more peaceful scenes replaced artwork of military might. 

    Sensuality was essential to Rajput art, as depicted mainly in female figures. Clothing on women was transparent, using sheer, colorful fabrics, loosely draped with exposed midriffs. Their long limbs and doll-like features helped support the concepts of love, poetry, heroes, and heroines. Gold, reds, saffron, and purples brought energy and movement to the stories of the painters. 

    Mewar School

    The Mewar School was conservative in style, painting with common motifs and bright colors and a flattened and monochromatic appearance of the scene. The royal hunting party (9.3.11) has an aerial and somewhat surreal view of the topography. Hills, valleys, streams, and the sun form the panoramic landscape with little dimension; figures spread across different parts of the extensive site. Marwar School artists focused on the themes of the nobles. The figures frequently were mechanical appearing and generally in profile. The two women (9.3.12) are conversing with another woman, all dressed in orange and red shades commonly used in Marwar paintings. The painting reflects the simple composition generally found in the different Marwar schools. 

    painting of many people and cranes
    Figure \(\PageIndex{11}\): Maharana Jagat Singh Hawks for Cranes (1744, watercolor, ink, gold on paper, 68.3 x 75.5 cm) (Public Domain)
    Three women under a pavailon

    Figure \(\PageIndex{12}\): Ladies in a Pavillion (1640-1650, ink, watercolor on paper, 24.8 x 20.3 cm) (Public Domain)

    Hadoti School

    Different styles were depicted in the Hadoti School, and generally, the themes were based on court scenes and the lives of the nobles. The colors were bright, and the figures looked natural in appearance. The raja (9.3.13) sits outside on the floral carpet while smoking his hookah. The saturated colors of the Rajput style are evident in the lower half of the painting, while the paler green of the background is similar to the color used in the Mughal style. 

    A man using a hookah on a yellow carpet

    Figure \(\PageIndex{13}\): A Raja Smoking a Hookah (1690-1710, ink, watercolor, gold on paper, 15.9 x 11 cm) (Public Domain)

    Dhundar Schools 

    The different styles in the Dhundar Schools reflected the Mughal influence of color. Popular themes were religious, many following Krishna's life. The Perennial Performance in Paradise (9.3.14) is heavily painted with gold and the more muted colors of the Mughal yet reflecting the Rajput interest with a broader subject matter and style of dress, landscape, and motifs.

    city around a lake with boatsFigure \(\PageIndex{14}\): Perennial Performance in Paradise (watercolor and gold on paper, 57.15 x 79.69 cm) (Public Domain)

    Krishna and Radha

    Unlike Mughal paintings that depicted the elite, Rajput paintings were frequently about love, poetry, and music, particularly with images of Krishna and Radha. "What Chinese art achieved for landscape is here accomplished for human love… The lovers are always Radha and Krishna, typifying the eternal motif of man and woman and revealing, in everyday events, their heavenly image"[3] Their position and status were enhanced with the use of specific colors, dresses, and jewelry. Krishna was usually dressed in yellow garments representing the passion of love. His skin was colored blue-gray, reflecting his journey from the sky, often holding a pink flower from the lotus plant in his hand to symbolize love. 

    Radha usually is portrayed in bright clothing and jewelry of pearls and emeralds. The sensuality of women was demonstrated by the transparent fabrics used in their gowns and headpieces. They wore long, flowing skirts of multiple colors, leaving the midriffs uncovered. Pinks, reds, oranges, and purples were the favored colors, all ornamented with gold to produce a shimmering effect. 

    Nainsukh

    The painter Nainsukh (1710-1778) created Raja Balwant Singh's Vision of Krishna and Radha (9.3.15), the raja looking at Krishna, hoping to receive his blessing. A bright orange canopy on the raja's terrace helps frame the images of Krishna and Radha sitting on the golden throne. Unlike many other paintings, Nainsukh did not add all the background details usually found in Rajput art; instead, he focused the scene on the meaning of the simpler spaces. Krishna and Radha are portrayed in their standard colors, dominating the right side of the image, while the raja wears white and blends in with the rest of the background.

     A man standing in front of two people on a couch under an orange awing
    Figure \(\PageIndex{15}\): Raja Balwant Singh's Vision of Krishna and Radha (1745-1750, ink, watercolor, gold on paper, 19.7 x 15.6 cm) (Public Domain)

    The image, Krishna and Radha in a Bower (9.3.16), is a page from the prose of Gita Govinda, a visual form to illustrate the words describing the passion of Krishna and Radha, who are hidden deep in the bower. A companion of Radha stands guard under trees. Color is liberally used throughout the painting, yet the images of Krishna and Radha painted in their standard colors stand out against the bright orange background and green rug inside the bower. Under the trees, the gray background gives the feeling of a foggy, more secretive area.

    A scene at night of a woman outside amongst trees and the night sky
    Figure \(\PageIndex{16}\): Krishna and Radha in a Bower (1665, ink, watercolor on paper, 24.4 x 19.7 cm) (Public Domain)

    Crying sounds of cuckoos, mating on mango shoots

    Shaken as bees seek honey scents of opening buds…

    By tasting the mood of lovers'' union[4]

    Radha and Krishna Walk in a Flowering Grove (9.3.17) alone during their walk, looking at each other. Illustrating a page from the Gita Govinda, love is found with the birds and trees and the intimate positioning of their bodies. This quintessential Indian idea—that nature echoes human passion—is beautifully manifested in this work by a master who has successfully translated emotion into a visual delight.[5] Krishna and Radha are centered in this painting, which is created in traditional colors. Her dress's orange complements the sunset's orange, giving movement along with the birds and flowering trees. 

    Two people walking together at sunset amongst the trees
    Figure \(\PageIndex{17}\): Radha and Krishna Walk in a Flowering Grove (1720, ink, watercolor, gold on paper, 19.1 x 11.1) (Public Domain)

    Mughal Architecture

    Mughal architecture is the distinctive Indo-Islamic architectural style that developed in northern and central India under the patronage of Mughal emperors from the 16th to the 18th century. It is a remarkably symmetrical and decorative amalgam of Persian, Turkish, and Indian architecture. The Mughals were also renowned for creating exquisite gardens in the Persian charbagh layout, in which the quadrilateral gardens were divided by walkways or flowing water into four smaller parts. The architectural styles were heavily influenced by the rulers Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb. 

    Early Mughal architecture first developed during the reign of Akbar the Great (1556–1605), who commissioned palaces, mosques, gardens, and mausoleums. The architecture synthesized Persian, Turkic, Timurid Iranian, Central Asian, Indian Hindu, and Muslim styles. Akbari architecture is also remarkable for its large-scale use of sandstone, evident in the construction of Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar's royal city, and Akbar's tomb in Sikandra. The mosque at Fatehpur Sikri boasts the Buland Darwaza, the largest gateway of its kind in India. Early Mughal mosques had massive, enclosed courtyards and domed shallow prayer halls.

    Tomb of Humayun 

    One of the most stellar accomplishments of Mughal architecture under Akbar is the Tomb of Humayun (9.3.18), Akbar's father. The tomb in Delhi was commissioned in 1562 by Humayun's wife, Hamida Banu Begum, and designed by a Persian architect. Humayun's Tomb was the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent and the first structure to use red sandstone on such a large scale. It is also the first Indian building to use the Persian double dome, with an outer layer supporting a white marble exterior—a material not seen in earlier Mughal architecture—and the inner layer giving shape to the cavernous interior volume. The use of indigenous Rajasthani decorative elements is particularly striking, including the small canopies or chhatris (elevated, dome-shaped pavilions) surrounding the central dome (9.3.19). It boasts the use of the pietra dura technique, with marble and even stone inlay ornamentation in geometrical and arabesque patterns on the facade of the mausoleum and jali or latticed stone carving decoration. This decorative facade style was essential to Mughal architecture and flourished later in Mughal mausoleas, including the Taj Mahal.

    a large temple tomb made from stone
    Figure \(\PageIndex{18}\): Humayun’s Tomb (Eatcha, CC BY-SA 4.0)
    circular dome with intricate carving
    Figure \(\PageIndex{19}\): Central dome (emant banswalCC BY-SA 4.0)

    Tomb of Itmad-ud-Daula 

    Under the rule of Jahangir (1605—1627), Mughal architecture became more Persian than Indian. Jahangir's great mosque at Lahore is an excellent example of the Persian style and is covered with enameled tiles. The Tomb of Itmad-ud-Daula (9.3.20) at Agra was completed in 1628. The tomb was built entirely of white marble and decorated in elaborate pietra dura mosaic, an inlay technique of using cut and fit, highly polished colored stones to create images—interior walls (9.3.21) decorated with vases vegetal and geometric patterns.

    tomb with four minerats made from stone
    Figure \(\PageIndex{20}\): Tomb of Itmad-ud-Daula (Muhammad Mahdi KarimPublic Domain)
    mural on a wall with decorative items
    Figure \(\PageIndex{21}\): Interior walls (Royroydeb, CC BY-SA 4.0)

    Taj Mahal

    The vision of Shah Jahan (1628—1658) introduced a delicate elegance and detail to Mughal architecture, illustrated in the Jama Masjid in Delhi, the Moti Masjid situated within the Agra Fort, and the Sheesh Mahal in Lahore Fort. They all make spectacular use of pietra dura and complex mirror work. Shah Jahan was a big supporter of the arts, his most notable achievement was the Taj Mahal (9.3.22), the tomb he commissioned after the death of his wife, an undertaking ongoing for sixteen years. The tomb in Agra is by a river with elegant gardens and reflecting pools, considered the finest architectural accomplishment in the Indo-Islamic region. The structure presents a perfect architectural symmetry of domes, towers, and arches, all created from the brilliance of the white marble and the exquisite workmanship. The placement of the garden and pools leading to the tomb adds to the spectacular perspective of the building. The four minarets give the complex additional dimension.  

    A white stone building built to house a crypt with domes and minerats
    Figure \(\PageIndex{22}\): Taj Mahal, (CC BY-SA 3.0) 

    The Taj Mahal complex was divided into five sections. The moonlight garden (1) lay north of the Yamuna River, and the riverfront terrace (2) facing the river contained the mausoleum, mosque, and jawaba building to mirror the mosque and create symmetry. In the center is the Charbagh garden (3), where the pavilions were located, adjoining the jilauikhana (4), a place to accommodate the tomb attendants and two other tombs. The jilauikhana meant ''in front of the house'' or a large courtyard transitioning between the street and royal buildings. The Taj Ganji (5) is along the back of the complex, initially a bazaar and a place for the caravans to stop. The central gate is situated between the jilauikhana and the garden. Levels gradually descend in steps from the Taj Ganji towards the river. Contemporary descriptions of the complex list the elements in order from the river terrace towards the Taj Ganji.

    The tomb's interior (9.3.23) is shaped like an octagon with openings on every side. On the ground floor are the cenotaphs (9.3.24) of the tombs for both the shah and his wife (the actual tombs are in the basement) located in the center of the octagon encircled by octagonal lattice screens (9.3.25) made of elaborately carved marble. The screens are inlaid with a pattern representing flowers made from precious stones. Each leaf and petal was carefully matched for the correct hues and perfectly placed in the marble. The marble was precisely cut and fitted in the style of parchin kari, a form of decorative art in the region. The walls were adorned with lapidary inlay as well as panels of calligraphy.     

    Taj Mahal site plan

    Figure \(\PageIndex{23}\): Taj Mahal Site Plan, (Public Domain)

    Cenotaphs in the Taj Mahal
    Figure \(\PageIndex{24}\): Cenotaphs, (Public Domain)
    Close up of Cenntaphs
    Figure \(\PageIndex{25}\): Jali screen, (CC BY-SA 3.0)
    Taj Mahal

    The Taj Mahal is the most famous example of Mughal architecture and it is visited by up to 8 million people every year. It is considered by many to be a new wonder of the world and for good reason; everything from the white ivory marble to the intricate calligraphy tells the visitor that it is nothing short of a piece of art.

     

    Badshahi Mosque 

    During Aurangzeb's reign (1658–1707), brick and rubble with stucco ornamentation replaced squared stone and marble as the building materials of choice. Aurangzeb was responsible for additions to the Lahore Fort: building one of the 13 gates, which was named for him, and building the Badshahi Mosque (9.3.26), a structure constructed from brick with red sandstone facades. The red sandstone is heavily carved with different geometric, floral, and lettering designs. Four octagonal minarets standing three stories high are positioned at each corner of the mosque. The main prayer hall (9.3.27) includes a central arched space with five other niches off the sides under the three central domes. The interior is covered with marble, traced stucco designs, and paintings. In general, however, Mughal architecture had begun to decline during Aurangzeb's reign, a process that would accelerate after his death. It was the last and perhaps the largest imperial mosque the Mughals constructed in today's Pakistan. 

    temple with several domes and minerats
    Figure \(\PageIndex{26}\): Badshahi Mosque (Romero Maia, CC BY-SA 4.0)
    interior of temple with intricate carvings
    Figure \(\PageIndex{27}\): Main prayer hall (Ahmad TahirCC BY-SA 3.0)

     

     


    [1]  "Diving Dipper and Other Birds", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album 

    [2] Padshahnamah پادشاهنامه (The Book of Emperors). 

    [3] Agrawala, V. S., (2016). The Heritage of Indian Art A Pictorial Presentation, Publications Division Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.

    [4] Poetic Allusions in the Rajput and Pahari Painting of India 

    [5] Radha and Krishna Walk in a Flowering Grove (recto); Krishna Fluting (verso)