This painting is based upon a well-known Mughal painting on the theme of a gathering of holy men of different faiths. The main figures can be identified (from right to left) as Ravidas, Sena, Namdev, Aughar, Kamal, and Kabir. Though trained at the Mughal court, the artist Mir Kalan Khan moved to Lucknow, where he became the leading court painter of Shuja' al-Daula (r. 1754–75) and Asaf al-Daula (r. 1775–98), producing a substantial body of work in a style that was widely imitated.
Based on a well-known work of about 1655 in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, this painting presents an established theme in Mughal painting: a mystical gathering of holy men of different faiths. In the present composition, most of the figures were copied directly from the London painting and, on the basis of inscriptions on the earlier work, they can be identified as (from left to right) Kabir, the great early fifteenth-century mystic, poet, and social reformer; Kamal, the son of Kabir; Aughar, a follower of Gorakhnath; Namdev, a late fourteenth-century devotee of Vitobha from Maharashtra; Sena, a barber who performed menial tasks for holy men; and Ravidas (active ca. 1470), a cobbler from Varanasi and the guru of Mirabai. The saints are accompanied by four chelas (followers) playing musical instruments (these figures are based only loosely on the earlier painting).
Among the most influential and individualistic painters of the eighteenth century, Mir Kalan Khan first came to prominence in the 1730s as one of the painters in the employ of Muhammad Shah at Delhi (r. 1719–48). The disarray in the Mughal capital after the invasion of Nadir Shah in 1739 compelled many artists to abandon the court; evidence shows that Mir Kalan Khan left Delhi for Lucknow, although the exact date of his departure is not known. At Faizabad and Lucknow, he became the leading court painter of the nawabs Shuja‘ al-Daula (r. 1754–75) and Asaf al-Daula (r. 1775–97), producing a substantial body of work in an eclectic style that was widely imitated.
Mir Kalan Khan incorporated Europeanizing elements into both his motifs and his technique, as is apparent here in the washy watercolor background. His distinctive handling of foliage and light effects may be seen in the softly rendered trees and the golden sky behind them. His subjects range from gatherings in bucolic settings to copies of Deccani paintings and elements from European prints, sometimes with his own additions, as in this case. The title "Lord of Lords" was likely awarded to him late in his career; its inclusion here, probably by a court scribe, is a sign of distinction for the work.
Navina Haidar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Gadon, Elinor W. “Dara Shikuh’s Mystical Vision of Hindu–MuslimSynthesis.” In Facets of Indian Art: A Symposium Held at the Victoria and Albert Museum on 26, 27, 28 April and 1 May 1982, edited by Robert Skelton et al., London, 1986, pp. 155–57.
2. Leach, Linda York. “Mir Kalan Khan and Provincial Mughal Painting of the Later Eighteenth Century.” In Paintings from India, by Linda York Leach. The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, edited by Julian Raby, vol. 8. London, 1998, pp. 168–69.
3. R. W. Skelton, personal communication: judging by Mir Kalan’s interest in and access to Deccani works, his father may have been a Deccani artist.
Inscription: Inscription in Persian in nasta‘liq script in front of central figure:
عمل میر میران
Work of the Lord of Lords
Private collection, England (before 1945–60); [ Terence McInerney, New York, until 2009; sold to MMA]
New York. Asia Society. "Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707–1857," February 7, 2012–May 6, 2012, not in catalogue.
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. 608, 614, 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. 253, pp. 341, 363-364, ill. p. 363 (color).