The emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1656–1707) and his royal hunting party are shown here in one of the final grand imperial images of the Mughal era. Preparations for the chase are in progress, as evident from the row of hunters in the foreground and others who lead deer as bait or carry leafy screens for camouflage. Bhavanidas, painter of this scene, worked first at the Mughal court and then later moved to the Rajput court of Kishangarh, where he became its preeminent artist.
This elaborate hunting scene depicting the emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707) and his hunting party is among the last imperial subjects of such grandeur created at the close of the age of the great Mughals. The artist is the master Bhavanidas, who spent his early career at the Mughal court and moved to the Rajput court of Kishangarh in 1719. The inscription in black ink identifies the subject and the artist; there is also a hidden signature in pale gold against the green middle ground.
The multitiered composition shows the Mughal emperor seated on a gilded palanquin held aloft by numerous red-coated attendants, among whom are two noblemen in green (whose similar beardless faces suggest a familial relationship) serving as symbolic bearers in a show of respect. All the figures are treated with great individualism, and the lavish background parade includes a mahi-o-maratib, or fish ensign, held up high—a signature detail that Bhavanidas included in several other works. Standing before the emperor are a Mughal prince ( possibly his son and successor, Bahadur Shah I; r. 1707–12) and the prince’s son, while the foreground contains a line of readied hunters and deer. Bhavanidas’ssensitive handling of the ethereal white horse in the middle ground heralds his interest in equine subjects, which became a particular specialty of his at Kishangarh. The painting is notable for its degree of detail and observation, expressed, for example, in the costumes and weapons, facial characterizations, and richly filled background. The dramatic rocky landscape indicates that the scene is likely to have been set in some part of the Deccan, where the emperor devoted the last twenty-six years of his life to the pursuit of regional conquests.
Although treating a Mughal subject, the painting relates more closely to Bhavanidas’s later work at Kishangarh in terms of its greater naturalism, softer palette, smaller figures, and more sensitive detailing, as seen particularly in comparison with an illustration of the Rukmini mangala of about 1720–25. The hunting scene also relates to a posthumous portrait of Maharaja Sahasmal of Kishangarh (r. 1615 – 18) that has been attributed to Bhavanidas, in which a similar composition shows rows of hunters in the foreground, a comparable palette, and an elaborate background. The figure style here, however, is markedly different, with more stylized and attenuated forms. The present work may have been made at the very end of Aurangzeb’s life or during the brief reign of Bahadur Shah I, perhaps for Raj Singh of Kishangarh (r. 1706–48) while the artist was still in service at the Mughal court; therefore, the span of possible dates for its execution could range from about 1705 to 1720.
Navina Naidar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. The artist and his career are discussed in more detail by the author in Haidar 1995 and in Beach, Fischer, and Goswamy, eds. 2011.
2. The presence of this signature was first noted by John Seyller (personal communication). See also Haidar in Beach, Fischer, and Goswamy, eds. 2011, vol. 2, p. 537.
3. Irvine 1903, pp. 31–33. The term is translatable as "fish and dignities." The ensign is usually made in the shape of a fish, four feet in length, and fixed horizontally on a pole. It can be accompanied by gilded balls, silk trimmings, or the image of a man’s head.
4. Archer, W. 1960, pl. 59; Dickinson 1949, p. 35; Sumahendra 1995, among endplates.
5. Dickinson and Khandalavala 1959, p. 35, pl. 8.
Inscription: Inscriptions in Persian in nasta‘liq script at center:
شبیه حضرت عالم گیر پادشاه
The likeness of his majesty the Emperor ‘Alamgir
عمل بهوانی داس
Work of Bhavanidas
In faint gold in front of first four attendants carrying imperial palanquin:
عمل بهوانی داس
Work of Bhavanidas
Ardeshir family, Mumbai, India, and London, England; [ Terence McInerney, New York, until 2003; sold to MMA]
Zurich. Museum Rietberg. "Wonder of the Age: Master painters of India, 1100–1900," April 30, 2011–August 21, 2011, fig. 18.
New York. Asia Society. "Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707–1857," February 7, 2012–May 6, 2012, no. 2.
Carboni, Stefano, Navina Haidar, and Maryam Ekhtiar. "Recent Acquistions: A Selection 2003-2004." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 62, no. 2 (Fall 2004).
Beach, Milo C., Eberhard Fischer, and B.N. Goswamy. Masters of Indian Painting. Vol. Vols. I, II. Zurich, Switzerland: Artibus Asiae Publishers, 2011. vol. II, pp. 532, 538, 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. 252, pp. 340, 362-363, ill. p. 362 (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. p. 112, ill. fig. 18 (color).
Dalrymple, William, and Yuthika Sharma. "in Mughal Delhi, 1707–1857." In Princes and Painters. New Haven and London: Asia Society, 2012. no. 2, pp. 70-71, ill. p. 71 (color).