Payag worked for the emperors Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan over the course of a remarkably long, seven-decade career, and his brother Balchand was also a talented painter with whom he collaborated on a handful of paintings. The attribution of this portrait to Payag, written in the border below the painting by Shah Jahan, was recently confirmed by the discovery of a microscopic signature on the golden tip of the emperor’s bow.
Four Folios from the Emperor's Album (nos. 184.108.40.206, .13, .21,.4r)
This celebrated imperial Mughal album (muraqqa‘), known as the Shah Jahan, or Emperors’, Album originally consisted of fifty leaves containing paintings, illuminated pages, and calligraphy. Thirty-nine of these date from the seventeenth century, while the remaining eleven date from the early nineteenth century. Of the earlier folios, the first few were commissioned by Emperor Jahangir (r. 1605–27), but it was under the patronage of his son Shah Jahan (r. 1627–58) that most of the leaves were added. The nineteenth-century folios contain copies of the earlier subjects as well as some new compositions. This album belongs to a family of related imperial albums that share similar formats and subject matter, most notably the so-called Wantage and Minto albums in British collections, particularly the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin.
Most of the calligraphic panels in the Shah Jahan Album were executed by the sixteenth-century Persian master Mir ‘Ali Haravi, who first practiced his art at Herat and later at Bukhara. His writing was so prized in Mughal India that it was collected, mounted in albums, and illuminated. Here (no. 220.127.116.11r), the illumination takes on a special character, departing from the more usual arabesque-based motifs seen in Indo-Persian ornament and moving toward a naturalism typical of Mughal painting. The inclusion of natural life as part of the decoration of text pages is also seen in an earlier Mughal Gulistan of Sa‘di in the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, London, which contains over two thousand bird images. In the Museum’s folio, six lines of Persian poetry written out by Mir ‘Ali in nasta‘liq script are set against a burnished gold ground that contains landscape features as well as various animals and birds, including a pair of sambar deer, nilgai antelope, white goats, mynah birds, robins, starlings, egrets, and shrikes. The lyrical poetry framing the composition is by the poet Hilali Chughata’i (two couplets are in Chagatai Turkish).
Recorded observations of the emperors Babur (r. 1526–30) and Jahangir reflect the Mughal interest in the natural world; indeed, modern science has recognized the latter as having made at least two original contributions to zoology. Jahangir’s remarkably acute interests in the flora and fauna of India are expressed in the sensitive natural studies produced by his leading artist, Mansur, as demonstrated in this album by the nilgai, or blue bull (no. 18.104.22.168), one of several such works therein. This beast may have roamed in Jahangir’s zoological garden, where Mansur, a multifaceted artist who earlier in his career had been trained in the art of illumination, would have been able to record details such as the broken horn and the whorl of hair at the base of the animal’s neck (the slightly less detailed brushwork on the body of the beast, however, may indicate the hand of an assistant). While this natural study depicts a relatively humble subject, a local animal, other works by Mansur portray more exotic creatures, including a zebra (which arrived at court as a gift in 1616), a turkey-cock (arriving in 1612), and a chameleon. Although Mansur was not the only artist who addressed such natural themes, he was an acknowledged master of the genre, gaining mention in Jahangir’s memoirs and earning the title Nadir al-‘Asr, Wonder of the Age.
Grand compositions such as no. 22.214.171.124, which shows a bejeweled Shah Jahan with a radiating nimbus astride a magnificent pie-bald stallion, were part of the imperial Mughal image disseminated around the world. The ruler’s firm black ink inscription names the artist as Payag, further confirmed by a recently discovered artist’s signature in a minuscule inscription located on the extension of the saddle. In many ways the hard-edged formality of this composition epitomizes the Shah Jahan painting style, yet demonstrated equally is Payag’s facility with royal portraiture, a somewhat rare genre for him. This crystalline imperial likeness and the layering of patterns and shapes in the area of the saddlecloth stand in contrast to the artist’s use of smoky landscapes, dark tones, and washy colors in the Padshahnama (Royal Library, Windsor). Of note is the subtle radiance around the point of the emperor’s spear. Also appearing in folios of that royal manuscript is the emperor’s same piebald steed. This particular formula of Shah Jahan in equestrian mode proved to have lasting popularity, judging from the number of later copies made, including one in the Emperors’ Album itself.
A shamsa (sun or sunburst in Arabic) traditionally opened or closed imperial Mughal albums. Worked in bright color, predominantly lapis, and several tones of gold, this meticulously designed and unerringly precise radiating medallion from the Shah Jahan Album (126.96.36.199r) is enriched by painted arabesques, fantastic flowers, cloud bands, birds, and insects. The Emperors’ Album contains two such masterpieces, this one centered around the name of Shah Jahan written in an elaborate tughra (cipher) style and its companion containing the seal imprint of his successor and later owner of the album, Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707). Specifically trained masters of ornament painted such illuminations. Although many Iranian prototypes for this rosette can be cited, the Mughal shamsa differs from them in its heightened three-dimensionality and warm coloring. The importance of solar symbolism in many aspects of Indian and Islamic visual representation and courtly life made such radiating motifs particularly meaningful to their royal patrons.
Navina Haidar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Welch 1987, pp. 124–25, no. 22.
2. The Art of the Book in India. Exhibition, British Library, Reference Division, London. Catalogue by Jeremiah P. Losty. London, 1982, p. 87, no. 58.
3. Alvi, M. A., and A. Rahman. Jahangir: The Naturalist. The National Institute of Sciences of India Monograph, 3. New Delhi, 1968, p. 5.
4. Published in Welch 1987, pp. 178–81, no. 47; Welch 1985, p. 216, no. 142; Welch 1987, p. 145, no. 111.
5. The Grand Mogul: Imperial Painting in India, 1600–1660. Exhibition, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass.; Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Asia House Gallery, New York. Catalogue by Milo Cleveland Beach, with Stuart Cary Welch and Glenn D. Lowry. Williamstown, Mass., 1978., pp. 137–43, provides a list of the artist’s major works; see also Blunt, Wilfred. “The Mughal Painters of Natural History.” The Burlington Magazine 90, no. 539 (February 1948), pp. 48–50.
6. Published in Welch 1987, pp. 202–3, no. 59.
7. A recent examination of the painting by Robert Elgood resulted in this new discovery.
8. See “The Two Worlds of Payag—Further Evidence on a Mughal Artist.” In Indian Art and Connoisseurship: Essays in Honour of Douglas Barrett, edited by John Guy, pp. 320–41. New Delhi, 1995. for a discussion of Payag’s style.
9. King of the World: The Padshahnama, an Imperial Mughal Manuscript from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle. Exhibition, National Museum of India, New Delhi, and other venues. Catalogue by Milo Cleveland Beach and Ebba Koch with Wheeler [M.] Thackston. London and Washington, D.C., 1997, p. 52, no. 17, pp. 72–75, no. 29.
10. Welch 1987, p. 257, no. 86.
11. Ibid., pp. 80–81, no. 1; p. 149, no. 114; Welch 1985, pp. 236–37, no. 156.
12. Skelton, Robert. “Imperial Symbolism in Mughal Painting.” In Content and Context of Visual Arts in the Islamic World: Papers from A Colloquium in Memory of Richard Ettinghausen, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 2–4 April 1980, edited by Priscilla P. Soucek, pp. 177–91. University Park, Pa., and London, 1988, pp. 181–82.
Signature: 188.8.131.52 recto: In Persian, last line of calligraphy: The poor sinner 'Ali the scribe. Microscopic signature of Payag on the golden tip of the emperor’s bow.
Inscription: Inscription in Persian in nasta‘liq script:
Work of Payag
Jack S. Rofe, Scotland (1929; sale, Sotheby's, London,December 12, 1929, to Kevorkian); [ Hagop Kevorkian, New York, from 1929]; [ Kevorkian Foundation, New York, until 1955; gift and sale to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Emperor's Album: Images of Mughal India," October 21, 1987–February 14, 1988, nos. 59 and 60.
Zurich. Museum Rietberg. "Wonder of the Age: Master painters of India, 1100–1900," April 30, 2011–August 21, 2011, no. 40.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India, 1100–1900," September 26, 2011–January 8, 2012.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India, 1100–1900," September 26, 2011–January 8, 2012.
Welch, Stuart Cary, Annemarie Schimmel, Marie Lukens Swietochowski, and Wheeler M. Thackston. The Emperors' Album: Images of Mughal India. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. no. nos. 59, 60, pp. 202-205, ill., verso pl. 59 (color); recto pl. 60 (b/w).
de Montebello, Philippe, and Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 6th ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. p. 329, ill. fig. 40 (color).
Okada, Amina. Imperial Mughal Painters: Indian Miniatures from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Paris: Flammarion, 1992. p. 211, ill. fig. 248 (b/w), verso.
Burn, Barbara, ed. Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York; Boston: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. p. 85, ill. (color).
Stronge, Susan, Khushwant Singh, Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh, Patwant Singh, A. S. Melikian-Chirvani, B. N. Goswamy, Rosemary Crill, Ian Knight, David Jones, B. N. Goswamy, F. S. Aijazuddin, and Divia Patel. The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms, edited by Susan Stronge. Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1999. no. 27, p. 64, ill. pl. 63 (color).
Crill, Rosemary, and Kapil Jariwala. The Indian Portrait, 1560–1860. London: National Portrait Gallery, London, 2010. p. 29, ill. fig. 5.
Beach, Milo C., Eberhard Fischer, and B.N. Goswamy. Masters of Indian Painting. Vol. Vols. I, II. Zurich, Switzerland: Artibus Asiae Publishers, 2011. vol. I, pp. 322, 329, ill. fig. 6 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 250C, pp. 340, 358-60, ill. p. 359 (color).
Guy, John, and Jorrit Britschgi. Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India 1100–1900. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 40, pp. 89-91, ill. p. 91 (color), p. 90 (color detail).
Haidar, Navina, and Courtney Stewart. "Jewels from the Al-Thani Collection." In Treasures from India. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. p. 80, ill. (color).