Jahangir with Falcon
When we look at paintings, we slowly realize how these paintings communicate to us. Each line, each form, each colour, the spatial arrangement speaks volumes. By studying these paintings, we can realize what kind of culture prevailed during that period. The very word ‘culture’ itself denotes lot of things like material culture, the way of living, the behavioral aspect, tastes, ideas, concepts and values. Keeping all these things in mind, one can have a look at these rich paintings for deeper understanding. When I look at these mogul miniature paintings in the backdrop of fast growing urbanisation in recent years, which is a matter of concern for all of us, these paintings beautifully unfold before us the richness of vegetation, which the artists have captured in fine lines and colours. Now cities are growing both horizontally and vertically because of the greediness of real estate people and that too at the cost of beautiful, rich vegetation. If urban development continues in the same manner, the next generations will see vegetation only in paintings and books.
Moghul and Rajput miniatures, two independent schools of art, are considered to be the cream of Indian art, which flourished from 15th to 17th century. The Moghul Dynasty was established in India by the emperor Babar. Emperor Babar was much more in interested in expanding his empire, so he could not give much attention to the developments of art and architecture, though he had a strong liking for art, literature and music. But the emperors who followed Babar have given India a huge collection of unforgettable miniatures and architecture of excellence to India. The emperor Barbar’s son Humayun, when he ascended to the throne, was forced in to exile to Persia in the beginning as one of his generals rose against him. Emperor Humayun as a refugee was given shelter by Safavid Dynasy which was ruling Persia then. During his stay in Persia, Humayun got acquainted with the Persian art and artists. As a result, while coming back to India after defeating the general with the help of Safavid emperor, he brought a couple of famous artists from Persia. Those Persian artists and Indian artists worked together and produced a body of interesting works , which is the fusion of Indian and Persian sensibilities. Today also, we see these works with great pleasure as these have tremendous charm.
Coming to the point, in Moghul miniatures we see a lot of importance being given to vegetation. The rulers and the artists as well gave priority to detail about the vegetation. It shows their close connectivity with nature and love for it. While going through the pages of Moghul history, I read that emperor Jahangir, the grandson of Humayun, was very much interested in collecting the rare spies of birds, plants and flowers. He used to instruct his ministers to collect rare things and document them through painting. And these paintings were preserved in a systematic manner in a chronological way. As a result, we see mogul miniatures, especially the borders embellished with beautiful flora and fauna. Most of the portraits of these emperors and their family members have beautiful borders interlaced with flowers, birds and plants. Human being as a part of nature, his/her association with nature is essential for harmonious living and these borders inhabited with vegetation reflect the same concept.
|Shah Abbas II with falcon|
During his time, the emperor Jehangir used to get his portraits done by famous artists. As a result, we see a series of portraits of Jehangir in various moods. Not only his portraits, his family members too had got their portraits done by the court painters. The court painter culture had developed during the reign of Jehangir, who was very much interested in art, literature and music. Those highly respected court painters were very skilled and each one was expert in a certain field. Sometimes the artists expert in a certain field used paint that part and other artists used to contribute their expert skills to the remaining parts, so it used to be a collective work. So, most of the paintings are not signed by the artists. Due to the existence of these court painters, the practice of painting had continued for a long time. The emperor Jehangir had an eye for beautiful and rare species; the rich portrait of Jehangir with Falcon on his right hand is the indication of his genuine interest in nature. The falcon seems to be in a sweet mood as wings have been raised to cheer up the majesty and the emperor is looking at the bird intently. The most interesting fact is the long gown of the emperor has been covered with animals like deers, tigers, birds and plants. Roland Barthes has written extesively about the dress and decoding, and we can apply the same decoding theory here to get deeper meanings.
Here is one more painting belonging to a dynasty called Safavid Dynasty, which ruled Persia then. The portrait belongs to Shah Abbas II who ruled Iran from 1642 to 1666. He was the seventh Shah of Safavid dynasty. The emperor Jehangir’s portrait and the portrait of Shah AbbasII have similarities. Shah Abbas has been shown with a falcon on his right hand and the borders have been covered with the thick vegetation with animals and birds. Life of animals and birds has been observed closely and depicted naturally by the artists in both the paintings. Romancing, copulating, killing – all have been depicted through delicate sensuous lines and colours. Though these borders give pleasure at the first sight, on the second and third look, the paintings reveal the secrets of the vegetation. The birds, animals, tress, plants have been rendered very realistically.
The Moghul Miniatures are a source of eternal inspiration for artists and the onlookers. Though small in size, they speak volumes.